KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Twice in the 11th inning Friday night, Alcides Escobar’s aggressive gambles paid off.
Leading off the bottom of the frame with the Royals trailing in the opening game of a weekend series with the Twins, Escobar hustled into second with a double despite Darin Mastroianni’s best effort to cut the ball off in the gap. Escobar then took third when Billy Butler slashed a line drive to Ben Revere in right field.
Unfortunately, the Royals needed to cheat fate three times to extend the opening game of a weekend series with the Twins at Kauffman Stadium.
Instead, Escobar was cut down trying to score the game-tying run on Mike Moustakas’ grounder to second – Minnesota had its infield drawn in – and the Royals lost 2-1. It was their 14th loss in 18 games.
“It was one of those nights where we were really struggling all night to put runs on the board,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “In these type of games, you have to push the envelope a little bit to put yourself in scoring position to try to pick up that run.”
Escobar definitely pushed the envelope, but it didn’t work out as Alexi Casilla preserved the first major-league win for right-hander Casey Fien with a perfect strike to catcher Ryan Doumit.
“We’re gambling there that Moose can hit it two steps to anybody’s right or left, because if it’s two steps either way Esky scores,” Yost said.
Jarrod Dyson then bounced out to second to end the game.
With the bottom two teams in the AL Central both trotting out starting pitchers who entered the night with ERAs north of 5.00, few would have predicted three total runs in 11 innings.
Nonetheless, Luke Hochevar and Nick Blackburn locked horns in a pitcher’s duel before handing off the game to the bullpens.
When the dust settled, the Royals’ relievers were outdueled in an extra-inning loss – just as they were last Fireworks Friday – with Josh Willingham delivering a win for Minnesota thanks to a seeing-eye RBI single in the 11th inning against closer Jonathan Broxton.
Former AL MVP Joe Mauer led off the 11th and fell behind 1-2 before working the count full and plopping an opposite-field double up the left-field line.
“He hit a good pitch,” Broxton said. “It was down and in, but he shot it right down the line and got a double out of it.”
Willingham, a notorious pull hitter, followed by hitting an inside-out single to right past diving second baseman Chris Getz for the go-ahead run.
“I didn’t have a chance,” said right fielder Jeff Francoeur, who didn’t even try to throw out Mauer at home. “We were playing deep and he’s (Twins third base coach Steve Liddle) not going to send him unless he’s 100 percent sure he can score with no outs. Mauer got a great read.”
Broxton (1-2) coughed up a ninth-inning lead a week earlier against the White Sox, a game the Royals eventually lost in 14 innings.
“It’s tough, especially because we played such good ball and Greg (Holland) got out of a big jam right there,” Broxton said.
It also wasted a great performance by Hochevar.
Aside from Mastroianni’s second-inning home run, a 379-foot poke just left of the Royals’ bullpen, Hochevar had the Twins flummoxed, lowering his ERA to 4.91 — below 5.00 the first since a disastrous home opener.
“I’m real encouraged with the way he threw the ball tonight,” Yost said. “He mixed in his curveball extremely well. It was a big pitch for him, but he also got some big outs with the slider and located his fastball really well.”
Hochevar scattered five hits in seven innings, striking out six without allowing a walk.
But Blackburn, who allowed seven hits in 6 2/3 innings, was equal to the task despite entering the game with an 8.10 ERA in 13 starts.
“He never really gave us anything to hit,” Yost said. “He stayed on the corners, kept the ball down and changed speeds really well.”
The first blip for Blackburn came in the seventh when Yuniesky Betancourt bashed a two-out RBI double into the left-field corner, where the ball rattled around a bit and eluded Willingham long enough for Eric Hosmer to circle the bases and easily score from first.