KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Here’s the question, the one that hung over the Royals’ 2-1 loss to the White Sox in 11 innings on Monday afternoon at Kauffman Stadium: Should Royals manager Ned Yost have stuck with starter James Shields with a 1-0 lead in the ninth inning, instead of turning the game over to closer Greg Holland?
The answer, with the gift of hindsight, seemed simple enough after Holland coughed up the 1-0 lead, and reliever Kelvin Herrera served up a decisive homer to Chicago’s Jordan Danks in the top of the 11th. But hindsight can be a tricky thing, and Yost defended the move that would leave a little tarnish on a successful homestand.
“In a one-run game,” Yost said, “(if) you send (the starter out) out, he’s either going to win it or lose it. So you let the closer go out and try to do his job.”
As Yost made the decision on Monday afternoon, Shields had thrown eight scoreless innings and allowed just two hits while striking out a season-high nine batters. He had also thrown 102 pitches. And Holland had been brilliant for nearly a month, recording nine straight scoreless outings and 16 strikeouts in his last nine innings.
So this was a manager going by his own protocol. His starter had done his job, and he didn’t want to risk Shields losing a close game.
“Ned’s the kind of manager, he wants to work for the starters,” Shields said.
“Especially if you’re going deep in the game like that. And I think if we scored another run right there, he was gonna leave me out there. But we’re going to Holland all day. He’s been great all season long. And that’s the right move right there.”
The move, of course, exploded when Holland loaded the bases with nobody out. Holland nearly escaped, coaxing a double-play comebacker from Paul Konerko. But the White Sox tied the game on Alexei Ramirez’s two-out, bases-loaded chopper up the middle.
Second baseman Chris Getz made a stop behind the bag — and had a chance at a force play at second — but a quick bobble allowed Alex Rios to score from third.
“You just try to be as athletic as you can and make a play, and I didn’t do that,” Getz said.
The loss snapped a four-game winning streak and dropped the Royals to 6-3 on their nine-game homestand. They now sit at 17-11 for the season, a full game behind first-place Detroit as they prepare for a three-game set at Baltimore.
And Holland’s blown save — and some more non-descript offense — ruined what had been a masterful performance from Shields, whose record stayed at 2-2 while his ERA dropped to 2.52.
“You don’t like losing games like we lost today,” Yost said, “especially when you get a start like we got from James Shields. But it was a fair homestand.”
This day, a makeup of Friday’s rainout, was supposed to be a tantalizing rematch between Shields and White Sox ace Chris Sale. On opening day in Chicago, a near frigid afternoon on the South Side, Sale had outdueled Shields in Chicago’s 1-0 victory.
This time, Shields carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning before DeWayne Wise opened the inning with a looper to right. Jeff Francoeur made an awkward dive on a moderately tough play, and the ball bounced off his glove and hit the ground.
“At the time, you feel like crap,” Francoeur said, “and you know he’s pitching his butt off. But I tried to make the play.”
One inning later, Shields dodged a bullet when Alexei Ramirez yanked a drive down the left-field line that appeared to go over — or close to — the foul pole. With a runner on base, the would-be homer would have given the White Sox a 2-1 lead. But initial ruling was foul — and it held up after a booth review by crew chief Vic Carapazza.
Shields would promptly strike out Ramirez, and the Royals headed to the ninth with an opportunity to go eight games above .500 for the first time since Sept. 22, 2003. But Sale, who allowed an RBI double to Billy Butler in the first, retired 15 straight Royals at one point, keeping the White Sox in the game with another gem. After throwing 30-plus pitches in the first inning, he still managed to go 7 1/3 innings while throwing 119 pitches.
On Sunday, of course, the Royals had come back from two runs down in the ninth and won it in the 10th. So perhaps this was the baseball gods putting things back in their proper equilibrium.
“I’ve blown games before,” Holland said. “I’m gonna try to learn from it at this point, because we had the lead in the ninth inning and we should have swept the White Sox at home. But we didn’t. I’m gonna wake up tomorrow and get myself prepared to win.
It starts on Tuesday in Baltimore.
“We’ve done a great job of coming back from losses, some tough losses,” Shields said. “We’ve had a lot of tough losses this year. Which is a good sign. It’s a good sign that we’re in the game. We’re not getting stomped on. And I think about 30 minutes after (this game), I think everyone’s gonna be fine.”