TORONTO — It was a quiet Independence Day for the Royals up here north of the border. No fireworks Wednesday night in this 4-1 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Center.
That makes two straight subpar offensive performances since Monday’s 11-3 rout in the series opener. It also dropped the Royals to 2-5 on an 11-game trip that precedes the All-Star break.
For starters, they did little against right-hander Carlos Villanueva, who pitched six shutout innings in his second start since injuries to the Toronto rotation forced him to shift from the bullpen.
“Give him credit for what he did,” left fielder Alex Gordon said, “but our offense just didn’t do much. Tuesday night (in a 6-3 loss) was OK, but tonight wasn’t good at all.
“When Mendy goes out and does something like that against the Blue Jays, a good offensive team, we need to back him up a little bit, and we just didn’t do it.”
That would be Royals starter Luis Mendoza, who also had plenty of good moments while striking out a career-high nine in his six innings. But he paid dearly for a mental mistake that led to two runs in the Blue Jays’ third inning.
That was all it took, really.
Villanueva (3-0) struck out seven and walked none while throwing 60 of 85 pitches for strikes before handing a 3-0 lead to the bullpen.
“He’s a kid who really pitches,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “He’s got an above-average curveball and an above-average change-up that he can command. He spots his fastball really well — works it out; works it down.”
The change to Jason Frasor in the seventh seemed to offer a bit of hope. Billy Butler opened the inning with a walk, but Yuniesky Betancourt’s sharp grounder to second turned into a double play.
That proved pivotal because Mike Moustakas followed with a single, and Jeff Francoeur’s sinking liner turned into an RBI triple when the ball skipped past left fielder Rajai Davis.
But the Royals settled for one run when Salvy Perez struck out, and Toronto got that run back later in the inning on Yunel Escobar’s two-out RBI single against Kelvin Herrera.
That’s how it ended.
Darren Oliver and Casey Janssen each worked one scoreless inning in closing out the victory. Janssen got his 11th save in 12 chances.
The game turned in the Toronto third.
The Blue Jays led 1-0 when Mendoza (3-5) ignited a two-run inning by allowing Edwin Encarnacion to reach safely on a slow hopper to the right side.
Mendoza raced to cover first — fine, so far — when first baseman Eric Hosmer initially broke toward the ball. But Mendoza got in the way when Hosmer retreated to the base to take the throw from second baseman Yuniesky Betancourt.
“I saw Hos go and try to get the ball,” Mendoza said, “and I just tried to get to the base to get the throw. But Hos got back. He called it, and I called it. For me, it was hard to stop in that situation. But I should have let Hos make that play.”
The result saw Mendoza and Hosmer at the base, and it was Mendoza who grabbed Betancourt’s throw — and Mendoza’s foot was nowhere near the base. It was scored, generously, a single.
“The ball had a weird spin on it,” Hosmer said, “so I was kind of late getting over to the bag. Mendy and I kind of called it at the same time. I think I just broke too late. I probably should have just let Mendy take care of it.”
Hosmer was at the base in time for a throw.
“Yeah, but Mendy was sold out on going to the bag,” Hosmer said. “He was there already. He couldn’t get out of the way. There was no way (for him to do that). It was just a miscommunication right there.”
The Blue Jays quickly cashed the gift.
Adam Lind sliced a double into the left-field corner that moved Encarnacion to third before Yunel Escobar and Davis delivered sacrifice flies for a 3-0 lead.
“(Mendoza) couldn’t get the ball down in crucial situations,” Yost said. “All three runs (against Mendoza) came on sac flies on pitches that were up.
“We shortened up the infield to try to take advantage of his good two-seamer (and hope) he could keep the ball on the ground so we could cut off one or two of those runs.”
The scorer’s decision to give Encarnacion a single, rather than charge an error to Mendoza, meant both runs were earned instead of unearned. Either way, the two runs were pivotal.
“They’re trying to get a sacrifice fly,” Mendoza said, “and I tried to stay inside to get a ground ball. I just missed the spot with my sinker. I just left it in the middle a few times.”
All of that came after Toronto opened the scoring in the second inning. Davis legged his way to a one-out triple on a ball that scooted past a diving Betancourt before splitting the right-center gap.
Kelly Johnson delivered the RBI with a sacrifice fly to right that was sufficiently deep that Francoeur merely lobbed the ball back to the infield.