CLEVELAND — If the Royals come up short in their postseason push — and that climb is now a little steeper — they can point, at least in part, to their ongoing futility at Progressive Field.
A 4-3 loss to the Cleveland Indians on Monday night in the start to a crucial three-game series (they’re all crucial at this point, aren’t they?) marked the Royals’ sixth straight loss here in Northeast Ohio.
It was also, as has been typical, an excruciating loss rife with what-ifs.
The Royals fell into a 3-0 hole against Ubaldo Jimenez before Eric Hosmer delivered an RBI single in the sixth. They were down 4-1 when Alex Gordon hit a two-run homer in the eighth against reliever Cody Allen.
It was Gordon’s 100th career home run, but he would likely trade that footnote for a two-out single in the ninth inning. Instead, he flied out to center against Indians closer Chris Perez with the bases loaded.
“We had our opportunities,” Gordon said, “and, obviously, coming down the stretch, we need victories. This is a tough one. Against a team that’s in it, too. It would have given us a boost in the standings, but it is what it is.
“We’ve got to keep grinding away and come back (Tuesday) and forget about it.”
Royals right-hander Ervin Santana, 8-9, is now winless in his last seven starts, after yielding four runs on just four hits in seven innings. One run was unearned, but the other three couldn’t have been more earned.
Santana surrendered home runs in the second to Asdrubal Cabrera, in the fifth to Yan Gomes and in the seventh to Carlos Santana. The last one required a video review. (Yes, clearly a homer.)
“Only one bad pitch,” Ervin Santana said. “It was the one to Cabrera. It was in the middle of the plate. The other ones were good pitches.”
Gomes also short-circuited the Royals’ often potent running game by throwing out Lorenzo Cain and Jarrod Dyson on stolen-base attempts. Gomes would have nailed Gordon, too, if Cabrera holds the throw.
“He’s got a good arm,” Cain said. “He’s very quick. He was throwing out everybody tonight.”
Jimenez, 11-9, handed a 4-1 lead to Allen after seven dominant inning in which he allowed seven hits but struck out 10 and didn’t walk anybody.
“He was really tough,” manager Ned Yost said. “His last four starts have been pretty good. A good fastball today. A really good slider. He didn’t throw as many splits as he had in the past, but his slider was really good.”
The Royals struck quickly against Allen.
Alcides Escobar opened the inning with a double high off the left-center wall, and Gordon followed with a homer — even after a bug flew into his eye. He didn’t get it out until he circled the bases and returned to the bench.
“Before I even saw a pitch,” Gordon confirmed, “it flew into my eye. I called timeout and tried to get it out of my eye. I think I pushed it down far enough (to) where it didn’t bother me. I just tried to play with it.”
That homer cut the deficit to 4-3, but Allen, Mark Rzepcynski and Joe Smith closed the inning with no further trouble.
The ninth inning, from the Royals’ view, was maddening.
Salvy Perez led off with a single through the left side, and pinch-runner Chris Getz moved to second when Chris Perez walked Mike Moustakas on four pitches.
After Pedro Ciriaco replaced Moustakas, David Lough batted for Cain and put down a sacrifice bunt that moved the runners to second and third with one out.
The Royals went to their bench again in sending up Carlos Pena to bat for Jarrod Dyson. Cleveland chose to play its infield at normal depth — in effect conceding the tying run on a grounder.
Pena took a third strike on a full-count pitch.
The Royals tried another pinch-hitter with George Kottaras batting for Escobar. Kottaras battled for 10 pitches before drawing a walk that loaded the bases for Gordon.
“We just couldn’t muster up anything until late,” Gordon said. “By that time, it’s pretty hard to do against the closer. I had my chance. I had a couple of pitches to hit. I just couldn’t get it done.”
The loss dropped the Royals to 75-69 and left them four games behind Tampa Bay in the race for the American League’s final wild-card berth. Cleveland, 77-66, is one of three teams between the Royals and Rays.
“You try to be one run better,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “Tonight, I feel like we were a tenth of a run better.”
The Royals’ struggles at Progressive Field are puzzling in that they have occurred while on a surge. They were on a 10-2 run in June when they won series opener before losing two close games.
In July, the Royals were hoping for a closing kick prior to the All-Star break after splitting a four-game series in New York...and suffered a three-game sweep.
The Royals arrived this week after boosting their postseason hopes with 11 victories in their last 15 games. And now...well, they have two more games here to break their season-long trend.
“A lot of bugs,” Santana said through a smile. “I don’t know what it is, but we can’t worry about that. We just have to come (Tuesday) and play the same game. Not try to do too much.”
Do more, though. More than the Indians.