After a stirring pre-game ceremony honoring Kansas City’s fallen ace, Yordano Ventura, the Royals took to the field with heavy hearts, hoping to correct for a late-inning loss that closed out their series in Houston and draw their record back to 3-4, just a game under .500.
Standing before them, the Oak Land Athletics, whose sneaky Jharel Cotton had a repertoire fit to give the Royals fits.
Aside from a Salvador Pérez near blast in the second, both offenses were mostly quiet for the first three innings, as starters Ian Kennedy and Jharel Cotton worked around two baserunners apiece spread out over those three frames.
Unfortunately for Kennedy, Ryon Healy sliced a dying flare into shallow right field that went in and out of Paulo Orlando’s glove as he slid to make the catch. Orlando kept the ball in front of him, holding Healy to a single, but Kennedy proceeded to dig himself a 3-0 hole against slugger Khris Davis. Needing a strike, Kennedy delivered one.
To the heart of the strike zone.
That is not where Salvador Pérez wanted that pitch. It’s not where anyone wanted that pitch.
Well, anyone other than Khris Davis and his teammates and the fan in Oak Land.
Davis sent the ball aloft into the wind in right-center. The same shrieking cross-field wind that knocked down Pérez’s near-dong on the warning track in front of the Royals’ bullpen, sent the Davis would-have-been fly ball out into the first row of seats in right center.
Kennedy dug himself a deeper hole, possibly just for the hell of it, ceding a double to Stephen Vogt and walking Yonder Alonso after jumping ahead in the count 1-2. Thankfully for Kennedy, he coaxed a desirable grounder from the bat of Trevor Plouffe, milking a 6-4-3 double play from the former Twin’s metaphorical teat, giving the Royals calcium to help make their bones stronger and allowing for a ridiculously belabored metaphor that bears no real insight into a long afternoon in Royalsland.
Lorenzo Cain attempted to answer the A’s attack in the bottom of the fourth, parrying with a four-pitch walk after singling in the first. With one out working against the Royals, Cain stole second with Eric Hosmer at the plate. Alas, a run was not to be, as Hosmer hit a towering pop fly roughly 46 feet from home plate, and Salvador Pérez grounded out to third to extinguish the flicker of hope for a run in the fourth. Or at all.
Lacking his best stuff on the afternoon, Kennedy worked around a two-out Matt Joyce single in the fifth, striking out Ryon Healy with his 82nd pitch of the afternoon.
With the shadows of the upper deck obscuring his already impressive mix of mid-to-low-90s fastball, whiff-inducing cutter, and PLUS changeup with wicked screwball action starting in the home half of the fifth, Jharel Cotton didn’t need any other luck as he struck out the trio of Brandon Moss, Paulo Orlando, and Alcides Escobar, needing just ten pitches to accomplish the moderately impressive feat.
After getting the gift of a one-pitch pop foul from Khris Davis, Kennedy issued a five-pitch walk to Vogt because he is a staunch believer in reciprocity in gift-giving. After laboring through an eight-pitch at-bat with Jed Lowrie that mercifully concluded with a routine fly ball to center, he dug himself a 2-0 hole against Yonder Alonso before eliciting a pop fly to Hosmer to end his outing at 99 pitches.
A summary of Kennedy’s outing reads thusly: six innings, 99 pitches, six hits, two walks, four strikeouts, one hung dong allowed, two earned runs charged to his line on the season. The effort dropped his ERA to 4.09 through two starts in this young campaign. He wasn’t sharp, but he did limit the damage to a mere two runs when it could have been significantly worse given the eight baserunners and the many laborious plate appearances weathered.
Shockingly, Raúl Mondesí Jr. led off the sixth with a flare to shallow center that dropped for the second Royal hit of the afternoon. Alex Gordon then grounded a routine grounder up the line to first. Alonso flipped the throw to second, where third baseman Trevor Plouffe was covering, who turned and made the throw to get Gordon at first. Fortunately for the Royals, Danny Duffy watched the play intently and jumped to his feet calling for a challenge. What was initially called a double play was reversed upon review as Plouffe’s foot clearly came off the bag at second a beat before the ball entered his glove.
After Moustakas flied out harmlessly to Rajai Davis in left-center, Lorenzo Cain watched as a 1-1 meatball went by, visibly frustrated with his passivity. Eventually Cain hit the ball to virtually the identical spot as Moustakas before him, and the Royals trudged back onto the field still trailing by two runs with another opportunity missed.
Peter Moylan did what Peter Moylan does and teased consecutive groundouts out of Rajai Davis and Marcus Semien after striking Trevor Plouffe out to start the frame, spending a mere seven pitches to record the three outs and standing in stark contrast to the afternoon’s starter.
Eric Hosmer worked a five-pitch walk to lead off the seventh, but Pérez, Moss, and Orlando stranded him, even after the Son of God advanced to second on a wild pitch during the Moss at-bat. The bottom of the frame came to a close with Cotton enjoying a 2-0 lead, having struck out six Royals on the back of his screwy change and bewitching cutter while walking three and allowing just two hits. At 97 pitches, his afternoon looked to be complete, as the A’s came back to the plate to face Moylan for a second inning.
Moylan? The Moyl? Still Moylan, just slicing through the competition with appreciated delicacy. Grounder from Joyce, harmless fly from Healy, grounder from Khris Davis, needing just ten more pitches, bringing his efficient total to 17 for two frames.
With just two frames left to mount a comeback, the colliding black holes of Escobar and Mondesí kicked off the eighth with feeble strikeouts against Santiago Casilla. Gordon didn’t fare much better, as Casilla completed his strikeout of the side with a filthy knuckle-curve that Gordon couldn’t lay off of as it dived out of the zone.
One of the few other mostly effective Royals relievers early in 2017, Mike Minor entered to keep the deficit to just two runs. After Vogt fouled off 1,800 pitches, he got the A’s catcher to pop up behind the plate to Pérez. He followed that with a lazy Jed Lowrie fly to right and got Alonso swinging on a blistering 95-MPH fastball that danced over Alonso’s bat.
The Royals’ final hope for a victory in their home opener lied in the able hands of the trio of impending free agents Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain, and Eric Hosmer with the smoking hot Pérez waiting in the wings if a runner got aboard with his four-game dong streak in critical condition. All around righteous dude and southpaw Sean Doolittle took the mound to close things out for Oak Land with two of the first three batters he was to face hitting left-handed.
Moustakas went down swinging at a slider that danced away from him. Cain worked the count more diligently than his Grecian predecessor at the plate and waltzed down to first with his second walk of the afternoon. For those keeping track at home, it marked his co-major-league-leading eighth walk of the season. His third time aboard, it seemed like Cain was intent upon willing the Royals to victory his damn self. Unlike Cain and much more like Moustakas, Hosmer went on the attack and didn’t watch a single pitch go by as he swung mightily but wildly at three straight pitches, the final one not a strike.
It all came down to the Royals’ All-Star catcher, whose bat made contact on three consecutive swings to start the at-bat before watching a trio of HIGH fastballs go by at or above eye level to run the count full. With a fastball just barely up out of the zone, Pérez pulled 94-MPH heater into right. With Cain running on contact, the Royals had runners at first and third. Understandably, Terrance Gore entered to pinch-run for the stone-footed Pérez, but Pérez’s single—just the third hit of the afternoon for the Royals—would prove to be their last as Moss had no answer to Sean Doolittle in a swinging strikeout to end the game.
The loss puts the Royals record at a dismal 2-5 and marks the seventh straight time the Royals have lost to the A’s. The Royals were overmatched against Cotton, and will look to Wednesday—yes, kiddos, there is no baseball to be played tomorrow because: reasons—to try to put another one in the win column. As has been the story much of this young season, the offense once again came up short of doing anything that could be classified as offensive, other than offending good taste.
That they did all afternoon.