ST. LOUIS — It figures, doesn’t it? The Royals finally got their attack churning Saturday afternoon and their bullpen, what has been a remarkably reliable bullpen, lets them down.
This was a wildly entertaining ride on a steamy afternoon at Busch Stadium before the St. Louis Cardinals closed out a 10-7 victory that evened this first round of the I-70 Series at one victory apiece heading into today’s finale.
Entertaining but, for the Royals, unsatisfying.
“It would have been nice to steal this one,” right fielder Jeff Francoeur said, “but baseball is funny. We kind stole a couple this week at home (in sweeping Milwaukee). Now, we’ve had one stolen back here.”
The game unfolded in three acts:
The Cardinals building a 6-1 lead through two innings against Bruce Chen.
The Royals roaring back with single runs in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings before grabbing a 7-6 lead in the seventh.
And the Cardinals’ three-run counterpunch in their seventh.
St. Louis produced its winning rally against Tim Collins and Greg Holland, two of the top arms in a Royals’ bullpen that, prior to the seventh, had compiled a 1.94 ERA since May 20.
“When you get those guys in the game,” third baseman Mike Moustakas said, “they’re usually lights out. It happens. They can’t go out every time and just dominate like they have been doing. That’s part of the game, but we know they’ll bounce back (today).”
Collins brought a 2.03 ERA into the game after not allowing a run in his 15 previous outings. He started the inning by walking Daniel Descalso before failing to make a diving catch on a popped sacrifice bunt by Rafael Furcal.
“I wasn’t going to let it fall,” Collins said. “It hit my glove. I didn’t squeeze tight enough or (my glove is) too small. I don’t know. It was in there to catch it.”
The result was a single that moved Descalso to second. After Collins retired Carlos Beltran on a foul pop, the Royals turned to Holland, who had permitted one run in 15 2/3 innings since returning from the disabled list.
“Holly wasn’t sharp,” manager Ned Yost said, “but it started with Collins with a four-pitch walk to Descalso. Then Holly struggled with his command, and it just wasn’t good for us.”
Matt Holliday greeted Holland with a game-tying single. A walk to Allen Craig loaded the bases, but Holland was poised to escape with the tie after striking out David Freese. Instead, Yadier Molina rammed a grounder up the middle for a two-run single.
“We’ve had plenty of comebacks,” St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said, “but not a lot of comeback wins.”
Matheny didn’t see it from the dugout; he was ejected in top of the first inning for arguing when the umpires reversed a triple play.
Holliday and Molina tormented the Royals throughout the game. Both got the Cardinals rolling by hitting two-run homers in the first inning against Chen. Holliday finished four for five with five RBIs, while Molina was two for three with four RBIs.
“It’s been frustrating,” said Holliday, who was hitless in 12 at-bats prior to his first-inning homer. “My swing had been a little off. I’ve just been trying to find a good groove. It is nice to see the results.”
St. Louis needed all it though after Moustakas, with four RBIs, helped the Royals erased a five-run hole against rookie Joe Kelly and the bullpen. It was a remarkable rally for a team that scored more than four runs just once in 13 previous games.
“We put together some really good at-bats today,” Moustakas said, “and were able to battle back and get the lead. It’s starting to come together for us now.”
The comeback also put the Royals in position to play to their strength – their bullpen. It just didn’t work out. The loss snapped the Royals’ four-game streak of one-run victories. (Yes, the bullpen was a key part of that run.)
Collins (4-1) took the loss, while Holland received a blown save. Mitchell Boggs (1-1) got the victory when Jason Motte worked a scoreless ninth for his 14th save in 17 chances.
The Royals’ relief corps appeared ticketed for mop-up duty after the Cardinals built their cushion against Chen, whose 1 2/3 innings marked his shortest start since going 1 1/3 innings on July 4, 2005 for Baltimore against the Yankees in New York.
“I didn’t pitch well,” he said. “I pride myself on giving my team a chance to win, and I didn’t do it. I’m definitely not very happy with the way I pitched.”
Even so, Kelly couldn’t last the necessary five innings to gain his first major-league victory. He gave up three runs and seven hits in 4 1/3 innings.
The Royals also got two runs against Sam Freeman, one against Eduardo Sánchez and one against Mark Rzepczynski. Alcides Escobar capped the three-run seventh with a two-run single that put the Royals on top.
“I was really proud of our offense and the way they just stayed after it,” Yost said. “They’re down 6-1, and they just kept putting together good at-bats. They battled back and got the lead but, from the seventh inning on, we just struggled to command the ball.”