CLEVELAND | It’s happening all over again. The Royals have, somehow, descended into their Le Cage act of recent years, piling one folly upon another in numbing repetition.
The latest example came Thursday afternoon in a 10-3 loss when they put themselves in an early five-run hole against Cleveland ace Cliff Lee, in part, by committing two costly errors of the laugh-or-cry variety.
One error was a dropped pop-up — yes, another one — that led to three unearned runs and resulted from wait for it the lack of sunglasses.
“I ordered some,” shortstop Tony Peña said, “but we never got them in.”
So it didn’t really matter when the Royals roughed up Lee a bit in the middle innings. The hole was too deep. Throw in a monster day by Grady Sizemore, which included a career-high seven RBIs, and Cleveland had a three-game sweep at Progressive Field.
The math keeps getting grimmer.
The Royals have now lost five in a row and 12 of their last 14. Thursday completed a 1-8 road trip that began in Chicago and continued in New York before concluding in Drew Careyville.
Check the standings. The Royals are a season-worst 17 games under .500 at 55-72, which leaves them two games worse than last year’s record through 127 games.
“Right now,” outfielder David DeJesus admitted, “it’s getting back to that feeling where if we go down, the game is over. I’ve been there too many times, but that’s what it’s feeling like right now.”
The quest to avoid finishing last for the fifth straight year also took another hit. The Royals now trail fourth-place Cleveland by 4½ games.
Third baseman Alex Gordon left the game after aggravating a sore upper right quadriceps muscle on a throw for the final out in the fourth. Gordon has been also battling a sore lower back.
The Royals, these days, seem to be losing a player a day. The rotation is down to three pitchers; the bullpen is beat up; the lineup is patchwork. None of that explains why the Royals can’t seem to catch pop-ups, though.
Lee improved to 18-2 after allowing three runs and six hits in seven innings. He is only the fifth pitch since 1970 to win 18 of his first 20 decisions. The others: Ron Guidry 1978, Greg Maddux 1995, Randy Johnson 1995 and Roger Clemens 2001.
“I didn’t feel like I had my best stuff,” Lee said. “I had to battle. When you get five runs in the first three innings, it gives you some cushion.”
Sizemore provided much of that cushion after entering the game in a 12-for-65 slump. He had four of the Indians’ 10 hits, including a three-run triple that opened the scoring after Peña’s error in the second inning.
“Every day is different,” Sizemore said. “I feel good, and I’m seeing the ball well.”
Sizemore’s three-run homer against reliever Josh Newman closed the scoring in the eighth. The Indians also got homers from Shin-Soo Choo and Jhonny Peralta. They hit three homers in each of the three games. The Royals didn’t hit any.
Zack Greinke, 9-9, took the loss despite allowing only one earned run in five innings. Those two errors contributed to four unearned runs, although Greinke only made things worse.
“It’s not like those errors allowed runs to score,” he said. “It’s not like I didn’t have a chance to get out of the jams. I was just not making good pitches after them.”
The Royals had eight hits, including a two-run double by Mark Teahen in a three-run fifth, but choked their comeback attempts by hitting into five double plays.
Five! The bullpen didn’t help, either. The Indians nicked Robinson Tejeda for one run in the sixth and Joel Peralta for one run in the seventh before Sizemore’s 410-foot bomb against Newman.
Nothing new there. Cleveland scored 15 runs in seven innings against Royals relievers in the three games.
Peña’s error came on Ryan Garko’s routine one-out popup. Greinke stuck out Kelly Shoppach, for what should have been the third out, before Cleveland loaded the bases on singles by Jamey Carroll and Asdrubal Cabrera.
Sizemore then rifled a 97-mph fastball into the left-center gap for a three-run triple.
More problems in the third.
Ben Francisco reached safely on a routine leadoff grounder to first when Billy Butler pop-flied the throw behind Greinke. The throw was so bad that Greinke never put his arm up.
Again, Greinke couldn’t pitch around the error. Choo rocked a one-out homer for two more runs, a 409-foot drive to dead center, and the Indians led 5-0.
Lee’s three-run hiccup in the fifth didn’t mean a thing.