These Trey Hillman Royals are starting to resemble the Buddy Bell Royals and the Tony Peña Sr. Royals and the Tony Muser Royals. You know, the can’t put the brakes on a losing streak Royals.
Their current skid hit seven games Thursday night with losses of 9-6 and 2-0 to the Cleveland Indians in a double-header at Kauffman Stadium.
Poor pitching and soft defense in the opener offset an attack that, finally, showed signs of life. The offense went back into its shell in the second game, which meant a solid outing from Brian Bannister went to waste.
That’s how losing streaks grow, isn’t it?
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A suddenly-unhittable Cliff Lee, 4-0, outpitched Bannister, 3-2, in completing Cleveland’s three-game series sweep.
Lee allowed just three hits in pitching a complete-game shutout for the first time in his career. He also matched a career high with nine strikeouts and lowered his ERA to 0.28. Lee has allowed one earned run this season in 31 2/3 innings.
Neither team had a runner in scoring position until José Guillen opened the fifth with a fly to left that David Dellucci misplayed into a double. But Lee struck out Billy Butler, Alex Gordon and Miguel Olivo.
Bannister’s biggest problem in the first six innings came when he was struck on the left shin by Kelly Shoppach’s leadoff liner in the sixth. Bannister recovered in time to record to out and got just a cursory visit from manager Trey Hillman and trainer Nick Swartz.
Dellucci more than atoned for his defensive mistake by opening the seventh inning with a high drive that just cleared the right-field wall for a homer.
Travis Hafner followed with a double into the left-center gap and went to third on Ryan Garko’s grounder to second. Bannister kept Hafner at third by inducing a grounder to third from Jhonny Peralta, but Asdrubal Cabrera pulled a two-out RBI double into the right-field corner for a 2-0 lead.
That finished Bannister. Leo Nuñez got the final out. As it turned out, it was already too late. The Royals are 9-13 after losing 11 of their last 14 games.
The seven-game skid is starting to creep toward all-too-familiar territory. The Royals have lost at least 11 straight on three occasions in the last four seasons; the club record in 19 in a row in 2005.
The worst part of losing the opener is Cleveland starter Fausto Carmona wasn’t his usual sharp self. He lasted just five innings and showed all sorts of vulnerability, but Royals rendered that moot by allowing the Indians to build a big early cushion.
“He battled,” Cleveland manager Eric Wedge said. “They did a good job of making him work, but he never gave into it.”
Carmona, 3-1, gave up four runs and nine hits but still handed an 8-4 lead to the bullpen. Jensen Lewis, Rafael Perez, Masa Kobayashi and Rafael Betancourt wobbled at times through the final four innings but held the lead.
Betancourt got his first save after pitching a scoreless ninth.
The Indians collected 15 hits in following up their 15-1 victory in Tuesday’s series opener. Wednesday’s game was rained out, which resulted in Thursday’s double-header.
Grady Sizemore had four hits, including a homer, and drove in two runs. Victor Martinez had three hits, while Jason Michaels and Casey Blake each drove in two runs.
Royals starter Brett Tomko, 1-3, wasn’t sharp, but he sure didn’t get any help from his defense. He threw 108 pitches in just four innings while allowing seven runs and 11 hits.
“That wasn’t a whole lot of fun tonight,” Tomko said. “You hope you can just chalk it up to one of those games.”
The Indians built a 7-1 lead through 2½ innings.
Reliever Yasuhiko Yabuta blunted any real chance for a comeback by permitting two runs in 2 2/3 innings after replacing Tomko. Only a terrific catch by Joey Gathright in center field prevented further damage to Yabuta’s line.
“If several guys have confidence,” Blake said, “it seems like it just carries over and the whole team gets it. That’s why they say this stuff is contagious. And vice versa. It’s a bad feeling, feeling like you’re not going to score any runs.”
The Royals know all about that feeling. That’s why it seemed encouraging when they finally showed the stirrings of some offense. They had a season-high 14 hits and matched a season high with their six runs. Olivo had three hits, including a two-run homer. David DeJesus had two hits and a homer. Butler drove in two runs.
It was a different story against Lee in the second game. The same ending, though.
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