The Royals fell behind big, battled back, and ultimately lost in extras, 6-5, to the Cincinnati Reds. While the loss did drop them to 7-11 and end a four-game winning streak, I think there were plenty of positives to take away from the evening.
I was impressed with Kris Bubic tonight. His statline doesn’t look impressive: 5.0 innings, seven hits, and five earned runs. But I think it’s misleading, as a couple of things outside his control led to most of those runs being scored.
With Cincinnati leading 2-1 in the third, Bubic appeared to strike out Nick Castellanos by locating a fastball right on the low outside corner, but it was incorrectly called a ball by home plate umpire C.B. Bucknor. It may sound like I’m being nitpicky with the analyzation of a single umpire call, but it was a really bad miss, and the Royals paid for it when Castellanos tripled on the next pitch. Bubic got the next two outs and was in position to escape the inning, but Matt Davidson and Jesse Winker hit home runs to inflate Cincinnati’s lead to 5-1. Had the strike three call to Castellanos been made, the inning would have ended with Davidson on deck.
Bubic was on the ropes, having thrown over 70 pitches through the first three innings and given up five runs, but he gave Mike Matheny two more innings to keep Kansas City in the game. Considering it’s his third big league start, I thought he did lots of good things. It was also nice to see him get taken off the hook from what could have been a loss.
As for the offense, the Royals squandered a ton of scoring chances early. They started the second inning with second and third, no outs, but couldn’t plate a run. In the third, Ryan O’Hearn hit an RBI single that was almost a grand slam, but with the bases loaded and one out, they couldn’t get more than the one run. Later on, with the bases loaded again, O’Hearn hit a bullet up the middle that turned into a double play because of a weird shift Cincinnati was doing. It felt like they easily could have had about 10 runs tonight.
But despite all of the blown chances, the Royals’ offense came through when they needed it. Down 5-1 in the fourth, Whit Merrifield hit an RBI single, and Adalberto Mondesi doinked one of his own in the fifth. The score held at 5-3 until the eighth, when Ryan McBroom, pinch-hitting for Alex Gordon, smashed a two-run, game-tying homer into the left-field seats.
This feels like a good time to talk about Mike Matheny. Those of you who read my tweets know that I was far from a fan of the hire. I wrote the Opening Day recap and blasted Matheny for a variety of things. Now, 18 games later, I have nothing negative to say about the job Matheny has done. He has been excellent - not just good, but excellent - for the Royals this year. His bullpen management, from pushing the right buttons to bringing a modern approach of “let’s use our best pitcher for the toughest part of their lineup, regardless of what inning it is” has been awesome. His decision to pinch-hit Ryan McBroom paid off in a huge way with the homer tonight. His lineups have been great. He’s flat-out been a great hire thus far, and I never thought I’d be saying that at any point. Keep up the good work, skip.
The Royals’ bullpen kept the Reds at bay in the back half of the contest, as Tyler Zuber, Ian Kennedy, and Scott Barlow did their jobs in the sixth, seventh, and eighth. Trevor Rosenthal pitched the ninth - a closer pitching the ninth inning in a tie game on the road! These are the types of moves that modern data show is the right direction to go in, and I love how the Royals have a manager that’s done the homework on it.
In the top of the 10th, the Royals didn’t score, though they should have had the bases loaded and two down. On a 3-1 count to Brett Phillips, the same CB Bucknor made another terrible call, claiming that a fastball a solid inch below the strike zone was a strike, much to the disbelief of Phillips and the Royals’ announcers. Phillips grounded out on the next pitch, and the Reds won the game on a Joey Votto walk-off double in the bottom half.
Tomorrow, the two-game series concludes with the Royals throwing Brad Keller against Cincinnati’s Wade Miley. First pitch is at 5:40. After that, it’s another off day before they head to Minnesota for the weekend.