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Walk-off homer sinks Royals in 7-4 loss to Cleveland

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Carlos Santana: Good. The Bullpen: Not so much.

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Cleveland Indians David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

For the first time since August 15, 2019, Carlos Santana hit multiple home runs in a single game, the last of which being a game-tying bomb in the 9th inning. Hunter Dozier had a homer and a double, while the Royals got extra-base hits from nearly half their lineup and entered the 8th inning with a 3-1 lead.

However, they struggled again with runners in scoring position while watching Scott Barlow and Greg Holland give up six runs in the 8th and 9th innings, falling 7-4 to Cleveland in the first game of a four-game set.

The Royals jumped out to a quick lead in the 2nd, thanks to a two-out, 0-2 single from Whit Merrifield. Kansas City starter Danny Duffy got himself into quick trouble the very next inning though, giving up a double to Oscar Mercado to start the inning and then following that by walking Bradley Zimmer. A Cesar Hernandez double play helped him escape with the lead intact.

Duffy struggled a bit in the third, but cruised for much of his outing. The long ball gave him more cushion in the 4th, thanks to solo homers by Carlos Santana and Hunter Dozier, putting Kansas City up 3-0. Cleveland responded with a homer of their own to cut the lead to 3-1, Duffy’s only blemish on a strong outing.

In his 4th start since returning from the IL, Duffy looked closer to his pre-injury self, holding Cleveland to just four hits in 5.0 IP, striking out five batters in the process. He needed 77 pitches to get through those innings, suggesting he had more in the tank. However, given the Royals recent bad luck keeping starters in an inning too long, manager Mike Matheny opted to go to an already taxed bullpen early.

Josh Staumont ran into trouble with back-to-back one out singles in the 6th but was able to get out of the jam with the lead. Up until a shutdown inning from Jake Brentz in the 7th, the game had been mostly stagnant. It became a back-and-forth affair in the 8th, when Matheny called upon his best reliever in Scott Barlow to hold down the heart of Cleveland’s lineup.

After striking out Jose Ramirez to start the inning, Barlow walked two of the next three batters before giving up a three-run homer to Roberto Perez, giving Cleveland a 4-3 lead late.

For Barlow, it was a second consecutive rough outing. He entered the game for Brady Singer last night with a runner on first and nobody out, preceding to give up three consecutive hits, including an RBI single and double. He was charged with two runs.

The five runs he’s given up in these last 2.0 IP are more than half of the nine he gave up in his first 40.2 IP total.

But the Royals weren’t done. Santana led of the top of the 9th with a game-tying home run, knotting the game at 4-4. A one-out double from Hunter Dozier put the go-ahead runner at 2nd, but James Karinchak was able to strand him at third.

With the game now tied, Matheny turned to a struggling Greg Holland, who has given up four runs in his last 6.1 IP, including giving up a run on three hits in his inning of work last night.

With Cesar Hernandez on second and two outs, the Royals opted to intentionally walk Ramirez to face Franmil Reyes, who hit a walk-off three-run homer to end the game. While understandable, it was a questionable decision.

Not only has he been a better hitter than Ramirez this season (144 wRC+ compared to 129), he has also been far better against right-handed pitchers than left-handed pitchers, posting a 1.010 OPS against righties compared to a .779 OPS against lefties.

It’s obviously easier to evaluate these moves in hindsight, and given the Royals recent track record, who knows if it made a difference. Either way, the Royals are now 36-51 while Cleveland ended their nine-game losing streak.

Up Next: Royals v. Cleveland, Friday, July 9, 6:10 PM CDT, Progressive Field. RHP Brad Keller (6-9, 6.39 ERA) v. RHP Triston McKenzie (1-3, 6.38 ERA)