By the end, it looked a lot like a few years ago.
This I-70 Series, which began on Friday with a Royals win and the home fans — finally — outnumbering the visitors sputtered to a weak end with a 9-6 Royals loss at Kauffman Stadium on Sunday.
The Royals’ leadoff hitter is hurt, the series lost, and their fans outcheered the last two games. Going into an eight-game road trip, they now face questions as to whether they’ve just begun another extended losing streak.
This series began with the Royals on their hottest streak in years, winning on Friday for the 11th time in 12 games. It ended with two losses, David DeJesus nursing a bruised rib cage, and Brian Bannister, Joel Peralta and Jimmy Gobble giving up nine runs in the first six innings.
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Perhaps all you need to know can be summarized with this: Jason LaRue hit a two-run, opposite-field home run into the Royals’ bullpen.
There were fielding problems, too. Mike Aviles lost a popup in the sun, and Joey Gathright was fooled by LaRue’s knuckling line drive that turned into a two-run triple.
The pitching and defense struggled enough that the Royals had 13 hits, six walks and six runs and it never felt pulled to closer than two runs from the top of the second inning on. They struck out 10 times against St. Louis starter Braden Looper and five of manager Tony LaRussa’s relievers.
LaRue’s knuckling triple put the Cardinals up 7-3 and knocked Bannister out of the game after 4 2/3 innings. In came Peralta, who got out of the fifth, but gave up a booming two-run home run to Albert Pujols, a 396-foot line drive caught by teammate Yadier Molina in the back of the Cardinals’ bullpen.
The Royals scored on a passed ball, back-to-back bases loaded singles by Gathright and Esteban German, a sacrifice fly by Ross Gload, and a double by Mark Teahen. Mark Grudzielanek had four hits, the 30th time in his career he had at least that many.
The Royals got three doubles — Teahen and two by Mark Grudzielanek — to go with 10 singles and no home runs.
They’re now 25-13 when they homer, and 12-32 when they don’t.
Bannister struggled with his struggle for the second consecutive outing, but this time it hurt him. Last week against Colorado, he gave up zero earned runs despite six walks — he hadn’t walked more than two in a start since April 8.
On Sunday, he walked four (one was intentional) in 4 2/3 inning. Three of the four walks (including the intentional) led to runs. His seven runs surrendered matched a season high.