In what started as a pitchers’ duel lacking in an abundance of things that make such games interesting like tons of strikeouts or sterling defensive plays, the Royals and Blue Jays waited until the seventh inning to make things interesting. From the Royals’ vantage point, “interesting” lasted for about ten minutes.
Before the seventh, the Blue Jays took advantage of Royals’ starter Edinson Volquez walking the first two batters he faced on a total of ten pitches. Edwin Encarnacion ripped a grounder to third baseman Cheslor Cuthbert, but the scorcher came out of his mitt, and a might-have-been double play ended up being a fielder’s choice at second, moving lead-off batter Ezequiel Carrera to third. Michael Saunders grounded out to short to drive in the first run of the game, and that’s where the score stood for five more innings.
The Jays threatened again in the fourth putting runners at first and second with two outs. Kevin Pillar ripped a liner to left, which Alex Gordon fielded on two hard hops off the turf. From deep about 20 feet shy of the warning track, the All-American left fielder saw Edwin Encarnacion rounding third for home and rifled a throw to the plate. The shot was dead-on, and Salvador Perez applied a fleeting tag on Encarnacion just as he passed by on his way to the plate. The throw couldn’t have been more perfect and kept the Royals’ deficit at a mere 1-0.
For their part, the Royals got next to nothing done against Jays’ starter Aaron Sanchez, managing two base-runners in the first six innings - Alcides Escobar walked in the third, and Cheslor Cuthbert lined a single to center in the fifth. The ground-ball prone Sanchez jumped ahead in the count and then let the defense behind him do the work, getting nine ground-outs and five fly-outs. He kept the Royals off balance with his filthy sinking two-seamer that set up his four-seamer and curve for the first few innings. In the fourth, he started mixing in his change. Regardless of what he threw, most of the Royals had no answer to anything Sanchez was throwing.
The one Royal who did get the better of Sanchez was the Hottest Man in Baseball, Kendrys Morales. In the top of the seventh facing the hard-throwing righty for the third time, Morales labored through a six-pitch at-bat, getting a 95-MPH fastball that he poked over the wall in right-center.
For those keeping track at home, this was the 87th dong that Morales has hung in the last week and a half, leading pundits to speculate that perhaps all he needs to do is glare at a ball with his piercing brown eyes to send it careening into the stands, a souvenir for some understandably excited (in every connotation of the word “excited”) fan.
With the game tied at one run apiece, Edinson Volquez trotted back out to start the bottom of the seventh. Despite the fact that Volquez’s performance in 2016 has been such that he should get the hook at virtually any point of trouble in his third time through the order, Volquez walked Russell Martin - owner of a .225/.313/.339 triple-slash heading into tonight’s game - on five pitches. This was not enough to get the hook. Troy Tulowitzki sent the second pitch he saw screaming on a line into center, eliciting a visit to the mound to buy Luke Hochevar some more time to warm up. With the mostly harmless Kevin Pillar following Tulowitzki, Volquez got ahead in the count 0-2 before hitting the Blue Jays’ center fielder with a pitch to load the bases.
While Ned Yost cannot possibly manage every game with as quick a hook as many would prefer - the bullpen simply could not sustain such liberal employment - Volquez was yielding a .315/.350/.430 slash the third time through the order heading into action tonight. When reaching the 76-100 pitch mark this season, it gets a little worse at .313/.352/.456. At the first sign that he’s entered the Danger Zone, Volquez has proven this season that the hook should come almost immediately. It took loading the bases to provoke his exit from the game.
With no outs and the bases juiced, Ned Yost trudged to the mound and fingered Luke Hochevar to try to clean up Volquez’s mess. Heading into this game, Hochevar had stranded 23 of the 24 base-runners he’d inherited. Facing an inarguably shitty situation, his sterling resume as the staff fireman got a little muddied.
Working with the same tight strike zone that Volquez had labored under, Hochevar worked the count full before walking Devon Travis on a cutter that the second baseman successfully but just barely held up on. Walking the first batter one faces is definitely not the prescribed way to clean up a bases-loaded jam. The Jays led 2-1 at this point, and Hochevar still faced the unenviable situation of having the bases full of Blue Jays.
Darwin Barney followed Travis’s walk with a ground-ball single up the middle, plating the second and third inherited runners of the inning. Still wanting for the first out of the inning, the Jays ceded one to the Royals with a Carrera bunt moving Barney and Travis to second and third. Reigning American League Most Valuable Player Josh Donaldson stepped into the box, and Hochevar went after him, but Donaldson went the other way with a cutter left up and in the heart of the plate to score two more.
Hochevar finally got the other two outs he wanted, facing formidable foes Edwin Encarnacion and Michael Saunders, but the damage had been done, and the Royals trailed 6-1.
The Royals added one run to their total with two outs in the top of the ninth when Eric Hosmer yanked a dong just over the wall into the corner in left, but it was too little too late for the Royals, who lost 6-2.
Volquez’s night ended with six innings completed, responsible for the three runners he left for Hochevar to try to clean up in the bottom of the seventh. He struck out five but allowed four hits and three walks, and hit Pillar to put a cap his night. Four of the six Toronto runs were charged to Volquez. Hochevar was charged with two earned. Volquez was saddled with the loss. As the Royals didn’t hold the lead when he entered, Hochevar was not tagged with the ignominious blown save.
It could be argued that Volquez and to a lesser degree the other Royals pitchers dealt with a tight strike zone. This speaks to said argument, though whining about strikes that could have been is clearly an exercise in futility.
Called balls tonight. Blue dots are against Royals pitchers. Mostly Volquez (emphasis mine) pic.twitter.com/cbtftHgpse— Shaun Newkirk (@Shauncore) July 5, 2016
Sanchez went eight strong innings, taking just 96 pitches to do so. He struck out three, walked one, and allowed three hits - one of which was the Morales dong. This was Sanchez’s second straight one-run, eight-inning start.
The Royals will try to regroup tomorrow against R.A. Dickey while hoping that Chris Young can muster the magic of 2015.