Despite Edinson Volquez going deeper into the game than any other Kansas City Royals' starting pitcher this season, he walked to the dugout one out shy of completing the eighth inning holding out hope for a best-case scenario of escaping with a no decision. That hope was misplaced.
The Royals' night started with a 29-pitch top of the first that saw seemingly every National other than Bryce Harper get the best of Edinson Volquez.
Adopting a sluggish and deliberate pace in the first, Volquez started out by walking Michael Taylor, just the fifth time the scuffling outfielder has walked this season. Anthony Rendon singled before Volquez got the best of Bryce Harper on a three-pitch strikeout. With Ryan Zimmerman at the plate, Michael Taylor started the first half of a would've been double-steal, but Rendon got a bad jump and retreated back to first. Zimmerman followed with a screaming liner just over the head of Paulo Orlando. Orlando, getting the start in right with the left-handed Gio Gonzalez on the mound, started in on the ball before racing back too late to make what would have been a tough play. Taylor scored, and the Nationals had runners at second and third with just one out. Daniel Murphy grounded out to Eric Hosmer, who was playing at a depth conceding the run at home, and Jayson Werth struck out to strand Zimmerman at third, ending the Nationals' threat.
With the Royals trailing 2 - 0 heading to the home half of the first, Eric Hosmer worked a two-out walk. Kendrys Morales sent a charge into a Gio Gonzalez fastball but hit it just a little too far down the end of the bat. Jayson Werth reeled it in at the bullpen fence on the warning track in left, and the Royals' chance to tie the game in the first died just a few feet shy.
Facing the bottom third of the struggling Nationals' order, Volquez breezed through the top of the second. Alex Gordon led off the bottom of the second by taking a pitch off his forearm, but the trio of Salvador Perez, Omar Infante, and Christian Colon failed to move him past first base.
Volquez enjoyed a seven-pitch third, and the Royals headed to the bottom of the inning with Orlando leading off. Orlando tried to bunt his way aboard but ran up the infield grass on his way up the line, getting hit with the throw from Gonzalez and getting called out for interference. Alcides Escobar grounded out, but Lorenzo Cain singled and Hosmer walked to bring the go-ahead run to the plate in the form of Kendrys Morales, who two innings earlier had nearly left the yard. With two outs, Cain tried stealing third and got caught to end the inning without a Royal crossing the plate.
Embracing the rhythm method and showing that his first inning struggles were behind him, Volquez cruised through his third straight frame, working around a Daniel Murphy grounder that got past Omar Infante in the midst of a 13-pitch inning. Morales, Gordon, and Perez followed with three consecutive ground outs, and Edinson Volquez found himself back on the rubber minutes later.
With Volquez facing the dregs of the Nationals' lineup, Jose Lobaton poked a grounder past a diving Hosmer at first, and Danny Espinosa lined a single to center to put two aboard with no outs. Michael Taylor grounded into a 6-3 double play, and Volquez induced a routine fly ball to center from the bat of Anthony Rendon to allow the Royals to escape the inning without digging themselves a deeper hole, though any hole at all with the offense mired in its current funk seemed an insurmountable one.
True to tradition, the Royals waited until two outs to put a runner aboard in the fifth, with Paulo Orlando punching a grounder through the right side of the infield. Unfortunately two-out rallies feel like a thing of the distant past, a vestigial notion of a bygone era that the Royals' evolution thwarted at this point in 2016. Escobar flew out to center to end the inning stranding yet another Royals baserunner.
The top of the sixth was hairier for Volquez. Bryce Harper led off with a single. Fortunately for the Royals' righty, Salvador Perez gunned down Harper attempting to swipe second. After a Ryan Zimmerman strikeout, Daniel Murphy stroked a fly to center, which glanced off the glove of a pursuant Lorenzo Cain for a two-out double. Jayson Werth worked the count full with a Washington insurance run in scoring position, but Volquez finally dispatched of him with a strikeout to escape the inning unscathed.
Gio Gonzalez came out in the bottom of the sixth, and Hosmer and Morales notched consecutive one-out singles to once again bring the go-ahead run to the plate for the Royals. Neck deep in a month-long slump, Alex Gordon worked deep into the count but broke his bat on a fly ball for the second out of the inning. With the tying runs aboard, Salvador Perez flew out harmlessly, ensuring that the Royals' struggles with runners in scoring position continued.
Still trailing by two runs, Edinson Volquez finished off Stephen Drew, Jose Lobaton, and Danny Espinosa. What was thought to be his last hope for the nonsensical "W" lied in the hands of Omar Infante, Christian Colon, and Paulo Orlando. Not shockingly, they did not get him the pair of runs he needed, with all three failing to get aboard for just the second inning to that point in which the Royals did not put a runner aboard.
Then, with his pitch count already at 103, Ned Yost left Volquez in to start the eighth, presumably to chase that win. Volquez got Taylor swinging with his 108th pitch of the night. Pitch 114 sent Rendon back to the dugout shaking his head as Volquez induced an infield fly. Despite not allowing a baserunner in the inning, Yost turned to southpaw Danny Duffy to face fellow lefty Bryce Harper in a move that made baseball sense but flew in the face of everything we know about Edinson Volquez. The fickle mistress that is the win would not be in the cards for Volquez.
Duffy got Harper looking, and the Royals headed to the bottom of the eighth with just six outs remaining down two runs.
Having yet to allow a run on the season, Washington reliever Shawn Kelley stepped to the mound and got ambushed by Alcides Escobar, who ripped a double to the gap in left-center field. The Sequencing Hydra scoffed at the Royals' attempt to score. With a home run and two strikeouts in his only three at-bats against the right-handed reliever, Lorenzo Cain went down looking, exacerbating the Royals' woes with runners in scoring position.
Dusty Baker fingered Oliver Perez to face the left-handed Hosmer, who had already gotten aboard all three times he had faced a lefty tonight. Three pitches later, Hosmer walked back to the dugout unable to hold up on a second straight ball out of the zone. Eight innings after nearly sending one out in what would still have stood as the game-tying home run, Kendrys Morales stepped to the plate, once again batting from the right side against a southpaw in the form of Perez. Making sure that Lorenzo Cain wasn't alone in the late-inning passivity club, Morales watched strike three go past, and the Royals struck out for the third straight time with a runner at second.
Danny Duffy, who has struggled mightily with right-handers this season, came out to start the ninth, and right-hander Ryan Zimmerman laced a ground-rule double to deep center. Southpaw Daniel Murphy came to the plate and dumped a single into left, but the Nationals were not about to challenge Alex Gordon with Ryan Zimmerman - who moves like a moderately spry septuagenarian - rounding third. Righty Jayson Werth chopped at a Duffy offering, but the chop resulted in little more than a swinging bunt, advancing Murphy but accounting for the first out of the inning. Pinch-hitter extraordinaire Chris Heisey made his first appearance of the series, but Duffy got the right-handed slugger swinging.
Then he walked the defense-first catcher Jose Lobaton on five pitches to load the bases, and it felt as if hope for a comeback was about to be quashed emphatically. Duffy followed the walk with a first pitch that badly missed its spot, and it appeared as though the wheels might have been on the verge of flying off the axle. Then he gathered himself, remembered he was facing Danny Espinosa, and struck him out to send the Royals to the bottom of the ninth with Jonathan Papelbon warming in the pen.
After working the count full and missing a few decent pitches to hit, Alex Gordon popped out harmlessly to shallow center. Salvador Perez went after Papelbon's first offering and did exactly what Gordon did before him. Omar Infante stepped to the plate with two outs - Ned Yost content to let Infante try to get aboard for Moustakas in the on-deck circle - and he struck out for the final out of the game.
The loss drops the Royals to 13-12, snuffing out any hope for 18-11. We'll always have the Plaza Parade.