OAKLAND, Calif. — It’s happened twice now, two nights in a row, and the Royals shouldn’t require further proof: While their rotation is much improved over recent seasons, one run isn’t often going to be enough.
It was Ervin Santana who paid the price Saturday night for failing to pitch a shutout in a 2-1 loss to the Oakland A’s. That was James Shields’ fate Friday in a 2-1 loss.
“We’re struggling a little bit right now,” said Lorenzo Cain, who struck out with the bases loaded and one out in the second inning.
“We’ve had two days where our guys pitched lights out, and we haven’t been able to put up runs for them. We can’t ways to score runs, and that’s the bottom line.”
Saturday was a lot worse, actually.
The Royals never mounted much of an attack Friday against Jarrod Parker and two Oakland relievers, but blew some wonderful opportunities Saturday to build a healthy lead against Tommy Milone.
“We picked up a run in the first,” manager Ned Yost said. “Second inning, bases loaded and nobody out. We put together some great at-bats to get the bases loaded. But we just couldn’t do any damage from that point.
“We got Milone’s pitch count way up in the first two innings, and then he settled in a little bit. We had another opportunity with a runner on third (in the fourth) … we couldn’t get him in. We had opportunities. We just didn’t capitalize.”
Santana, 3-3, allowed two runs and just four hits in seven innings. Two of those hits and both runs came in the sixth, when the A’s got a leadoff double from Eric Sogard and and a two-out killer triple from Brandon Moss
“These are good hitters,” Santana said. “I just have to be better next time. I felt good. I just didn’t have good luck today.”
That was enough to send the Royals, 20-19, to their ninth loss in 12 games.
A sellout crowd of 35,067 gathered at the O.co Coliseum, presumably lured by the prospect of post-game fireworks. (If the sellout number seems low — remember, the A’s block off the top deck.)
They saw the A’s fall into a quick 1-0 hole while Milone, 4-5, battled command issues. The Royals blew several chances to build a healthy lead, and Milone eventually found a rhythm.
When he departed after six innings, and 111 pitches, he had yielded just one run and five hits. That got the game to Oakland’s potent bullpen with a lead.
Ryan Cook struck out two in a scoreless seventh. Sean Doolittle induced three routine infield grounders in the eighth. Grant Balfour pitched around a leadoff walk in the ninth for his eighth save in eight chances.
Santana carried a 1-0 lead into the sixth, which Sogard started with a double into the right-center gap. A wild pitch moved Sogard to third with no outs. Coco Crisp then drew a walk.
Jed Lowrie produced the tying run with a sacrifice fly to center and, when the throw by Cain was too high to even bluff a cut-off, Crisp moved easily to second.
Santana retired Yoenis Cespedes on a fly to short right, but Moss golfed a two-out triple over Cain’s head for a 2-1 lead. Santana ended the inning by inducing a pop by Josh Donaldson, but the A’s had all the runs they needed.
It was much the same Friday when Shields let a 1-0 lead slip away by surrendering leadoff homers in the seventh and eighth innings.
“Right now, there’s just no room for error out there,” Yost said. “But that changes from day to day. (Santana) was just fantastic again.”
The Royals scored their only run after Alex Gordon capped an 11-pitch at-bat in the first inning by lining a two-out double into the left-center field gap.
Billy Butler followed with a Texas League bloop into short right field that fell between three players for an RBI single and a 1-0 lead.
Crisp nearly tied it in the Oakland first, but his leadoff drive to right hooked just foul before he took a third strike on a full-count fastball.
The game really turned in the second, when the Royals loaded the bases with no outs. Salvy Perez led off with single before Mike Moustakas and Jeff Francoeur each battled through a nine-pitch plate appearances for walks.
It all came to nothing.
Elliot Johnson fouled to first on the first pitch. Cain took a third strike. And Alcides Escobar struck out on a high fastball.
It took 37 pitches, but Milone put up a zero in the inning. He started the third by walking Gordon, but Butler grounded into a double play. Milone was at 75 pitches through three innings but had allowed just one run.
The Royals then wasted Perez’s leadoff double in the fourth. Perez went to third on Moustakas’ fly to deep center, but Milone struck out Francoeur and Johnson.
Santana, meanwhile, rolled easily into the middle innings. He worked around a Donaldson’s one-out double in the second and benefited from Gordon throwing out Sogard on a one-out bid in the third to stretch a single into the double.
When Butler started the sixth with a single, it marked the forth time in five innings the Royals put their leadoff hitter on base.
Again, it came to nothing.
Eric Hosmer flied out to deep center before Milone retired Perez on a routine fly to left and Moustakas on a routine fly to center.
Those missed chances came back to bite in the Oakland sixth.
“We had a situation (in the second inning) where we had the bases loaded with no outs,” Santana said, “but we couldn’t score any runs. In the end...you know how it is.”