For those who peddle or buy into narratives based on momentum, The Will to Win™, or any other similar pop sports psychological balderdash, any hope that Tuesday night's dramatic comeback win would serve as the catalyst for a corner turning not seen since the days of Luke Hochevar: The Starting Pitcher evaporated somewhere between the first and 38th pitch of the afternoon for Kris Medlen. That's how many pitches it took for Medlen to get his first out. Facing the seventh hitter in the Nationals' lineup, Wilson Ramos, Medlen needed 11 pitches to finally record the strikeout.
Of course, Medlen's afternoon should have started out much differently. With Michael Taylor leading off, Medlen served up a tailor-made ground-ball out to the left side of the infield. A hesitant Mike Moustakas stuttered toward the ball, got caught in between taking it on a short hop and taking it above the waist, and ended up watching as the ball skipped off his glove into the outfield grass. Error.
The next batter up was Anthony Rendon. He pulled a grounder to Omar Infante. Partially shielded by second base umpire Manny Gonzalez, Infante booted the routine grounder to his backhand side. For the second straight routine play, a plus defender for the Royals turned an out into a baserunner.
Things don't typically get better from here.
Bryce Harper followed with a fisted blooper into shallow center field. Ryan Zimmerman kissed a ground-ball double down the third-base line. Daniel Murphy lined a double down the chalk in right. Because the floodgates had burst open, Jarrod Dyson got caught in the deluge of errors, misplaying the ball in the corner, and Murphy took third on the fielding error. Jayson Werth doubled home the fifth Washington run of the first. Then he advanced to third on a Medlen wild pitch. He eventually scored on a Clint Robinson sacrifice fly.
Medlen faced every member of the Nationals' lineup in the first. The first six he faced scored. Only three of those runs were earned.
To say the defense let him down was a gross understatement. It is difficult to think of an inning in which this Royals defense played worse, and just yesterday Dyson and Lorenzo Cain turned two should-have-been outs into a pair of extra-base-hits in support of Luke Hochevar.
The Royals put a couple aboard in the bottom of the first - Alcides Escobar walked, and Eric Hosmer singled - but neither scored. Medlen finished off the top third of the order in the top of the second, a tantalizing vision of what could have been an inning earlier.
In the bottom of the second, Omar Infante ripped a one-out ground-ball single up the middle. Drew Butera shot a two-out liner into the gap in left-center, plating Infante who was running on contact. Alcides Escobar poked a fly ball into shallow center, and Drew Butera elected to try his luck at home. Nationals' center fielder Michael Taylor came up firing and the throw was on target, just in time to get Butera at the plate. Unfortunately for Stephen Strasburg and the Nationals, Ramos was unable to hold onto the ball while attempting to apply the tag. Fortunately for the Royals, they had cut into the Nationals lead, trailing 6 - 2 at the end of two.
Through the end of two innings, Medlen's pitch count stood at 54, but Strasburg's had been run up to a surprising 45.
Unfortunately, Medlen put the first three aboard to start the third inning, via a single-single-walk sequence to Zimmerman, Murphy, and Werth, and Medlen's rough start was over at two-plus innings. Danny Duffy entered with the bases loaded, and the singles train kept chugging along. Wilson Ramos and former Royals farmhand Clint Robinson punched sharply hit singles to left, each plating a single run. Danny Espinosa hit a lazy fly to center, which Cain positioned himself behind to catch in stride and fire home, but Cain's throw home wasn't in time to nab Werth. Michael Taylor singled to Gordon in left, loading the bases again. Anthony Rendon grounded up the middle, but this time Infante fielded the backhander cleanly and tossed it to Escobar at the bag for the second out of the inning.
When the damage was done in the top of the third, the Royals trailed 10 - 2. Setting out to prove Buddy Bell's age-old adage true, things got worse from here.
Noted homophobe Daniel Murphy hit a solo shot a couple rows into the stands in right field against new pitcher Dillon Gee in the fourth. Gee put two more aboard after the largely inconsequential dong shot, but luckily Danny Espinosa still plays for the Nationals, and the Royals escaped the top of the fourth only trailing by nine runs.
Between innings, one of the hot dogs in the hot dog race face-planted, an apt metaphor for the Royals' performance.
Not wanting to be that human hot dog, Gordon went the other way against the shift. Omar Infante ripped a grounder to Daniel Murphy, and Murphy Murphied it, putting two aboard with no outs. Unfortunately Dyson stumbled on a grounder to Murphy, which Murphy didn't Murphy, and the Nationals turned a double play. A Drew Butera grounder later, Strasburg was out of the fourth at 74 pitches.
Bryce Harper hung dong for the tenth time this season in the top of the fifth, but that was the only run the Nationals scored in the fifth. That this felt like a small victory at this juncture speaks volumes about this game from the Royals' standpoint. When the other team puts up a dozen runs by the end of their half of the fifth, it's likely been a long, miserable day.
Chien-Ming Wang pitched in the sixth. Turncoat Clint Robinson drove in the 13th Nationals run of the game, fingering the eye of every Royals fan who had ever included his name in a pipe-dream trade scenario.
With nothing left to play for and home plate umpire C.B. Bucknor understandably hoping to speed up a game already past the three-hour mark, the strike zone appeared to get a bit larger, much to Eric Hosmer's chagrin. After striking out in a plate appearance that should have seen him walk with a snack ball left over, Hosmer chirped at Bucknor from the dugout and got ejected.
This got Salvador Perez some action at first base. This factoid being perhaps the most interesting one for the Royals today is nothing if not sad.
The Royals meandered aimlessly toward the inevitable. Throwing the fans at the park a bone, Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis pitched in the eighth and ninth innings. Unlike every Royals' hurler to that point, they didn't allow runs.
Osage City, KS native Blake Treinen pitched a scoreless ninth for the Nationals.
When the dust had settled, the Royals lost by 11 runs in a game in which they never really had a chance. Stephen Strasburg wasn't sharp by any means, but the Royals weren't about to get to him for double-digit runs.
The Royals have now dropped seven of their last nine contests dating back to the beginning of the series in Anaheim, falling to a record of 14-13 and third place in the American League Central.