BOSTON — Were the Royals asked to define the “dog days” in the baseball calendar, they’d be hard-pressed to do better than simply point to Monday afternoon’s 5-1 loss to the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park.
A blah loss to conclude a bad trip with the end of the season still beyond the horizon.
The Royals rolled over against Daisuke Matsuzaka, a pitcher returning from a third stay on the disabled list, and suffered a third loss in four days to a club piecing together its lineup after overhauling a dysfunctional roster just before the series opened.
So ended a 2-5 tour that began with three games at Tampa Bay.
“We swung the bats well at times (on the trip),” designated hitter Billy Butler said. “We battled back in some games. Today, we just didn’t have a lot going for us.”
Here’s the thing; the trip could have been a lot worse. The Royals’ two victories were remarkable efforts – a 1-0 victory over the Rays in 10 innings and a six-run comeback for their only victory at Fenway.
There was nothing remarkable Monday.
The Royals managed just one unearned run in seven innings against Matsuzaka, who made his first big-league start since July 2 and only his sixth of the season.
Matsuzaka, 1-3, gained his first victory in more than 15 months and since returning from Tommy John surgery on his elbow. He made five starts earlier this season before a strained neck muscle forced him back to the disabled list.
“I didn’t feel like I’d be able to come back strong again this season,” he said through a translator. “I went back to (the minors) and threw the ball really well. I knew if I could do that up here, the results would come.”
As the Royals saw.
“What he did today, and what he did real effectively,” manager Ned Yost said, “was he threw his slurvy slider inside on right-handers really well. He executed that pitch really well a number of times.
“When you’re looking out away on him, and he throws that slider that starts at you and breaks back over the corner of the plate, it keeps you off-balance.”
Dice-K scattered five hits while striking out six and walking two before handing a 5-1 lead to reliever Clayton Mortensen to start the eighth inning.
The Royals did, at that point, return a pulse when Alex Gordon and Butler hit one-out singles. That brought venerable Vicente Padilla into the game, and he ended the threat by getting Salvy Perez to ground into a double play.
The pulse receded.
Andrew Bailey closed out Matsuzaka’s victory by pitching a scoreless ninth.
Royals starter Luke Hochevar was marvelous last time out in matching zeroes with Tampa Bay ace David Price for eight innings.
This time, not so much.
Hochevar, in particular, paid dearly for two pitches that Cody Ross drove off the Green Monster in left field: a two-run single in the third inning that broke a 1-1 tie and an RBI double in a two-run sixth.
“The curveball (in the third),” Hochevar said, “I’m ahead (1-2) in the count. I’m trying to get that off the plate. I don’t know where it ended up, but he hit it good enough to get it off the wall. I may have shown it to him too much in his first AB.
“Then I threw a cutter down and away to him (in the sixth). I thought I popped him up but, coming down, it hit off the wall, and they scored another two runs.”
Both were Fenway specials.
“If it’s in our park,” Yost said, “both of those balls are probably outs, but we’re not in our park.”
Hochevar added, “I know the ballpark I’m pitching in. I’m trying to pitch him away to make him beat me to the big part of the yard, but he got the head (of the bat) out on both of them. That’s what happens.”
For all that, Hochevar, 7-12, still pitched the fifth complete game of his career, albeit an eight-inning version. He allowed eight hits, including a homer by Jacoby Ellsbury in the first inning that erased a brief 1-0 lead.
The Royals opened the scoring with a tainted run but mounted only one other threat against Matzusaka. It came in the sixth when Gordon hustled his way to a one-out double – his league-leading 42nd double.
Butler followed with a walk, but Matzusaka recovered nicely by retiring Perez on a foul to right before striking out Mike Moustakas.
Boston put the game away later in the inning.
Hochevar surrendered one-out doubles to Ellsbury and Ross that caromed off the Monster and extended the lead to 4-1. James Loney followed with a flare into left for an RBI single.
That was it.
“You come in here and lose three out of four…,” Yost said. “I felt we were in every game, but we’re struggling offensively right now. I think our pitching did a nice job on this trip. We just need to get the offense going again.
“We just couldn’t get anything going. There are three or four guys who have had a rough trip who are really struggling offensively. We need to get back home and get it turned around.”