KANSAS CITY, Mo. —In many ways, this was a typical Royals loss, the kind fans in Kansas City have grown far too accustomed to in recent years.
So before we get into how the latest defeat, a 6-5 heart-breaker at the hands of the Oakland A's on Saturday night, was a bit different from the others, let's run through the checklist of brutal elements to which the Royals treated a crowd of 26,634 at Kauffman Stadium.
Royals take an early lead? Check.
Opposing team ties the game in the late innings? Check.
Royals blow a golden opportunity to re-take the lead? Check.
The one thing that set this apart was the name of the man who gave up the winning run and took a rare loss in the process: Joakim Soria.
The Royals' lone All-Star proved that on any given night, any player — even one with a 2.43 ERA, 25 saves and an uncanny knack for never being rattled — can play the role of goat.
"It happens," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "He's not a machine. He's not a robot. Everybody gives up a run now and then. The damage is a double and a single."
Indeed. Soria (0-2) entered in the ninth inning with the score tied 5-5, but all it took was a fairly improbable sequence — a double by Kurt Suzuki (who had been hitless in five career at bats against Soria) and a two-out single by Adam Rosales (who had never faced Soria) —to send the struggling Royals to their fifth straight loss.
Still, there's plenty of blame to go around for this one, which the Royals led 5-4 after the sixth inning thanks to a gutsy effort by starter Bruce Chen and a grand slam in the second inning by Yuniesky Betancourt.
You could also point to an offensive attack that mustered no runs, three hits and stranded five runners after a five-run second inning. And if you're feeling particularly vicious, you could point to reliever Blake Wood, who bailed Chen out of trouble in the sixth but allowed Oakland to tie the score in the seventh.
Regardless, a solid — if unspectacular — effort by Chen, who allowed four runs on nine hits in 5 2/3 innings, was wasted.
It was a noteworthy performance, considering the way the game started. Chen struggled with his command and allowed four of Oakland's first five batters to reach base as the A's surged to a 3-0 lead.
Luckily for the Royals, Oakland starter Trevor Cahill dealt with control issues of his own in the second inning. A walk to Mike Aviles loaded the bases for Betancourt, who made Cahill - who had thrown 16 balls and 14 strikes at that point - pay for his wildness by depositing a 2-1 sinker to left for the third grand slam of his career.
"He made a mistake and left the ball up," Betancourt said.
Jason Kendall's sacrifice fly gave the Royals a 5-3 lead entering the third, but both pitchers settled down after that. Cahill retired 16 straight batters, while Chen held the A's scoreless over the next three innings.
Afterward, Soria could only offer the simplest explanation he could for the rare inning.
"That happens in baseball," Soria said, softly.