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Kennedy digs Royals’ grave early in 6-2 loss to the Angels

With the fate of the Royals’ season in the balance, Kennedy and the Royals fall flat.

MLB: Los Angeles Angels at Kansas City Royals
“So this is where it ends?” - Dave Eiland
John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

36 pitches.

That is how many pitches it took for Ian Kennedy to get out of the first inning.

Coincidentally, that is the same number of pitches that it took for Ian Kennedy to extinguish any hope that the Royals might compete for a playoff spot in 2016.

More optimistic fans (and perhaps the Royals’ front office) will point to the fact that tonight’s loss for the Royals put them dead even with their record at the 98-game mark in 2014. Then and now, they had won 48 and lost 50. Then they went on a tear to finish the season, going 41-23 from July 22 through to the end of the season, making the American League Wild Card Game, one that no one will ever forget.

Given the makeup of this year’s roster (read: awful rotation, dodgy bullpen, anemic offense, and less than otherworldly defense), it takes some pretty inventive mental gymnastics to envision such a run to close out this season.

In the aforementioned first inning, Ian Kennedy yielded a lead-off single to Yunel Escobar followed immediately by a four-pitch walk to Kole Calhoun and a five-pitch walk to Mike Trout.

If there are less ideal ways to try to assert that all is well and that playoff contention is still possible, Ian Kennedy didn’t seem interested in exploring them.

Albert Pujols grounded a single up the middle, driving in two and advancing Trout to third. The abysmal Daniel Nava skied a sacrifice fly to Paulo Orlando in center to run the score to 3-0, Angels. After Andrelton Simmons flew out for the second merciful out of the inning, Ji-Man Choi lined a double to Brett Eibner in right, moving Albert Pujols from first to third. Facing the second straight poster child for Replacement-Level Player, the 70-Million-Dollar Man yielded a single to Carlos Perez, running the score to 4-0, a deficit that would have felt insurmountable on nearly any night in 2016. Feeling for his former teammates, Royals’ farmhand of yore Johnny Giavotella struck out to conclude a top of the first in which the Angels sent nine to bat and four across the plate.

When this disastrous first inning drew to an end, noted tea enthusiast Dayton Moore took the last sip of his oolong and peered into his ornate teacup. The leaves spelled out: SELL DIPSHIT.

At this point, the phone in Dayton Moore's office began ringing ceaselessly for the remainder of the evening.

The Royals managed little in terms of return fire until the fourth inning when Salvador Perez stepped to the plate with Hosmer standing on second after reaching on a surprise bunt single and advancing a base after being hit with the throw to first. On the first pitch, Angels’ southpaw Hector Santiago reared back and unleashed a fastball. That fastball cut right through the heart of the zone. The impatient backstop’s bad habits worked in his favor, and Perez sent the pitch screaming into the pen in left, cutting the deficit in half.

After that laborious, possibly season-killing first inning, Kennedy settled down. Given that virtually anything can be qualified as settling down after facing nine and allowing four runs, that can seem like damning him with faint praise, but Kennedy sent down the side in order in the second and faced the minimum in the fourth. He put two aboard in the fifth, both by his own hand - Trout walked, and Nava was hit by a pitch - but he escaped that jam as well.

In the home half of the fifth, the Royals put a real threat together with back-to-back infield singles from Alcides Escobar and Cheslor Cuthbert (the latter granted only upon review) and a walk from Eric Hosmer, all coming with two outs. Unfortunately Kendrys Morales struck out swinging to kill the rally.

With Kennedy’s pitch count at 99 after five innings, Ned Yost opted to send him back after the deflating bottom of the fifth. A Cheslor Cuthbert fielding error later, Kennedy was giving way to Aussie sidearmer Peter Moylan with Ji-Man Choi standing on first base. Moylan worked through the sixth without ceding a run.

Tasked with facing Calhoun, Trout, and Pujols, Ned Yost turned to southpaw Brian Flynn. Predictably Flynn took care of the left-handed Kole Calhoun and then ran into problems facing the righties. After working the count full, Flynn walked Mike Trout. Then he uncorked a wild pitch while pitching to Albert Pujols to send Trout flitting downstream to second. With the runner in scoring position entirely of his own doing, Flynn dug himself a 3-1 hole to the future Hall-of-Famer before allowing a liner to right to send Trout trotting home, increasing the Angels’ lead to 5-2.

Flynn limited the damage to one run allowed in the seventh, and with the Royals trailing by multiple runs, Flynn came back out after the forgettable trio of Christian Colon, Alcides Escobar, and Cheslor Cuthbert wimpered their way through a quick bottom of the seventh. Flynn sent down the side in order, and the Royals turned it over to the heart of the order with three runs needed and six outs left.

The family being torn apart loomed in the shadows, and Cam Bedrosian - owner of the second-longest active scoreless streak in baseball - toed the rubber. Eric Hosmer went down swinging through a slider. Kendrys Morales struck out on a virtually identical pitch. Salvador Perez only saw sliders and also went down swinging. Just Alex Gordon and the Omaha Storm Chasers stood between the Royals and a rightful sell-off of moveable pieces.

Yost put in [Chien-Ming] Wang to face Giavotella and then the top of the Angels’ order in the ninth. Wang got into all kinds of trouble. Giavotella singled. Kole Calhoun worked a one-out walk to put two aboard for Mike Trout. Trout flew out to the warning track, but Giavotella advanced and scored on the Pujols single that followed. Defensive replacement in left Todd Cunningham stepped to the plate and sent a flare to foul territory down the third-base line. Alex Gordon, the only man wanting to keep the family together, laid out completely and made a highlight-reel catch to get Wang out of the inning and keep the Royals’ hopes alive.

Leading off the bottom of the ninth, Gordon turned on the first pitch Huston Street threw him and sent it screaming into the stands. Unfortunately the timing wasn’t right - it was pulled foul - serving as an apt summation of the Royals’ 2016 season.

Gordon sent a charge into another ball, but it was caught easily. Orlando and Eibner followed with two quick outs, and the Royals fell 6-2.

If Moore and the Royals were sitting on the fence at the start of this game, big free agent acquisition Ian Kennedy threw them off the fence and set it ablaze in the first. There may not have ever been a more emblematic example of where things went wrong between a championship run and a follow-up season that fell flat than this start.

The fate of the team and their status as contenders should get set in stone this week as the path toward selling or buying is chosen. The person who was meant to solidify the rotation when signed last offseason did precisely what the naysayers said he would do at one of the most crucial junctures of the season, any arguments for staying the path or adding pieces for a playoff push evaporating with every Angel run that crossed the plate.