KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Royals responded to the embarrassing sweep by the Houston Astros of the previous week with some tone-setting victories. They took the series-openers at Toronto and St. Louis that paved the way for a positive response.
That run ended Friday night, when the New York Yankees prevailed 4-2 to open a four-game series at Kauffman Stadium.
Maybe you’ve heard this before. The Royals had trouble scoring.
But this wasn’t an Adam Wainwright or Mark Buehrle production. Silencing Royals bats was Chase Whitley, a rookie making his fifth major-league start and collecting his first victory.
The Royals mustered seven hits on the night, five off the 24-year-old who worked in the strike zone throughout his season-best seven innings.
A ninth-inning flare-up —the Royals got a two-out double from Billy Butler and a walk to Alex Gordon — fizzled when Salvador Perez grounded into a fielder’s choice to end the game.
“Basically, he kept us off-balance,” Butler said.
Whitley got all the support he needed in the third when the Yankees made the most of Jeremy Guthrie’s lone poor inning.
Bases were loaded with catcher Brian McCann, a power pull hitter, stepped up. Guthrie tried to slip an eephus pitch by, and nearly did. The 58 mph floated entered the strike zone, but McCann exercised enough body discipline to hold back and offer late enough to get a piece of it. McCann fouled off two pitches with two strikes before unloading.
His blast to left beat the shift one-hopped the fence. McCann had cleared the bases with a double and the Yankees led 4-1.
“Had McCann down to two strikes and couldn’t finish him off,” Guthrie said. “I tried to go up and away off the plate and he slapped it. Not the bets one to throw. I’ll probably try a different one next time.”
Once again, the Royals would require a comeback. They found themselves in that position in three of the four games in the just-completed Cardinals series, and the Royals got over the hump in two of the games, losing the third in extra innings after tying Wednesday’s game with two in the ninth.
But not this time. No big innings, not enough base runners, no blasts. The offense essentially was Alex Gordon, who received his player of the month award for May before the game, and is staking his claim for a repeat.
Both of the Royals’ scoring innings started with Gordon hits. In the second, it was a one-out double to right. Gordon came around when Salvador Perez dropped a single between left-fielder Brett Gardner and the line.
In the fifth, Gordon led off with a sharp single through shortstop and stole second. He motored home on Lorenzo Cain’s grounder up the middle, and the Royals caught a break here.
The Yankees left second base uncovered with second baseman Brian Roberts heading to first because first baseman Mark Teixeira served as the cutoff man for the throw home. Shortstop Brendan Ryan didn’t get back to cover second, and Cain went in easily.
But the Royals couldn’t take advantage. Mike Moustakas grounded out into the shift on the right side, and Alcides Escobar popped up.
Approach was a problem throughout the game for the eager-swinging Royals. Whitely had Royals offering early. Through six innings, Whitley had thrown an economical 72 pitches.
“We missed some pitchers that were hittable but for the most part he was in a zone,” Royals manager Ned Yost said.
Guthrie’s streak without a victory continued. He was the winning pitcher in his first two starts but since then has accumulated six losses and five no-decisions. He keeps the Royals close —Guthrie entered the game with 4.00 ERA and has surrendered more than four earned runs in one of his 13 starts. But it hasn’t been enough lately.