In microcosm of season, Kansas City Royals pitchers squander opportunity amid 11 walks

·5 min read

Their starting pitcher lasted two innings, a development that dominoed into summoning seven men to the mound by night’s end. Their star catcher came out of the game after three innings (and we’ll come back to that), which helps explain why the manager was warming up a pitcher in the ninth inning.

And then there was the stupefying spectacle of the Kansas City Royals walking 11 men, including three in three separate innings.

Mercy, by night’s end, the New York Yankees were walking on the wild side and walking on by. They walked like Egyptians and walked the line and walked this way … and about any other.

This was a formula for a fiasco for the Royals on Wednesday night at Yankee Stadium. But their 6-5 walk-off loss was something different than that somehow: an exasperating squandered opportunity for a streaky team standing on the verge of pushing the pendulum back the other way after a long recent funk.

You might call it a microcosm of the season, actually, as the Royals fell to 33-39 after failing to hold on for what would have been their fourth win in the last five games. It’s the 11th lead they’ve blown this season and their 13th loss in 23 one-run games. This, after having the best record in baseball through May 1.

Whether the narrow loss after a ninth-inning rally, and against all logic, renders this night more or less helpful to the broader cause than the debacle this could have been remains to be seen, perhaps as soon as the rubber match of this series on Thursday afternoon.

But here was the surprisingly upbeat way it was framed by Danny Duffy, who was on an unspecified pitch count in his first start since May 12 after being sidelined with a left forearm flexor strain.

“It was punch for punch, and those games are incredibly fun to be a part of,” said Duffy, who struck out four in two innings and escaped unscathed from walking the bases loaded in the second but was pulled after having thrown 42 pitches.

If it was deflating to watch or listen to, well, know that that’s not how it felt to him.

“When you’re on the losing side of that kind of game, it makes the entire team better,” he said. “Because we’ve been through something, and we continue to learn what we have to offer, what we bring to the table talent-wise and preparation-wise. And it shows. Nobody hangs their head.

“Something happens, we get an uppercut, and we come back swinging every time. And that speaks to the heart of this team. It’s something that’s very fun to be a part of and very encouraging to be able to battle back the way we did.

“And we’ll continue to ride that wave. This isn’t going to keep us down.”

Trouble is, a team whose slim margin for error is all the more reduced by injuries to Adalberto Mondesi and Andrew Benintendi, can ill-afford to create its own messes.

(Or to suffer any more injuries, such as the one to catcher Salvador Perez that led to him being removed Wednesday for what seemed to be precautionary reasons shortly after taking a foul ball off his mask: Afterward, manager Mike Matheny said he’d been told it was a “non-concussive event” and that Perez had “passed everything” but that Perez had experienced some headache “because of the mask jamming his chin back.” You “just need to be careful in those situations,” Matheny added, with further evaluation awaiting Thursday.)

Which brings us to those pesky 11 walks, three short of the club record set three times and last in a 14-3 loss to Minnesota in 2006.

“Those (games) aren’t normally going to work out well when we’re giving that many free bases,” Matheny said. “It’s amazing that we were still in the position that we were to put that game away.”

True. But it’s also true that without the walks, or at least three in particular, the Royals could well have won this game.

While Duffy emerged intact in the second by striking out Rougned Odor to preserve a 2-0 lead the Royals had taken on Ryan O’Hearn’s second home run in as many days since returning from Triple-A Omaha, Carlos Hernandez wasn’t able to do the same after walking two men in the fourth: They came home on Clint Frazier’s game-tying double, after which Hernandez dealt another walk that he stranded.

And when Carlos Santana gave the Royals back the lead with a home run in the eighth inning, Jake Brentz got away with their 10th walk of the night to open the bottom of the inning when he induced a double-play grounder. After he walked Frazier, though, Odor’s two-run homer gave the Yankees a 4-3 lead that figured to hold up with Aroldis Chapman entering the game in the ninth inning.

But the Royals concocted a two-out rally with a Whit Merrifield single to send Michael A. Taylor to third, an intentional walk to Santana, a walk to Sebastian Rivero (in the game for Perez) and a half-swing infield single by O’Hearn to take a 5-4 lead into the bottom of the ninth.

That half of the inning began with another quirk of the night: Matheny, the former catcher, warmed up Greg Holland while Rivero was getting his gear back on.

But a night after Holland earned a save in a 6-5 victory, he was bruised for a game-tying home run by Gary Sanchez and the game-winning run when Luke Voit’s blast off the left-field wall brought home Tyler Wade.

Suddenly, a game they both never should have been in and should have won was over with another maddening L attached to the ledger.

And with the question of whether they are oh-so-close to winning more a matter of conjecture as opportunities to demonstrate that continue to elude them.

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