ARLINGTON, Texas — Somewhere, at some point, Joakim Soria has somehow morphed into a nightmarish combination of Ambiorix Burgos, Andrew Sisco, Mike MacDougal, Ricky Bottalico and every other failed Royals' closer of the last generation.
Soria blew another lead Sunday afternoon by surrendering two runs in the ninth inning in a 7-6 loss to Texas at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. That makes a career-high four blown saves, and his ERA now stands at an almost-incomprehensible 5.57.
"Stuff like this happens," Soria said, "but it's been happening for two months. It's been hard. This is the hardest part of my career right now. I need to figure out what's going on."
Manager Ned Yost was adamant afterward that Soria, despite his struggles, will remain as the club's closer.
"Jack is our best option," Yost insisted. "Trust me, I have been through this five or six times (as a manager). The worst thing you can do in a situation like this is to start messing around with the bullpen."
Sunday was a mess, too.
First, Soria served up a leadoff homer to Nelson Cruz before the game ended on a controversial play at the plate when Mike Napoli scored all the way from first base on Elvis Andrus' two-out single to right.
Napoli slid under the tag by catcher Brayan Pen~a after Pen~a took a step back once he took the throw from first baseman Eric Hosmer. The Royals argued briefly, but replays indicated umpire Mike Estabrook got the call right.
"I thought I had home plate blocked," Pen~a said, "but I guess not. He slid in there. I feel like... I can't say the word — but that's the way I feel right now."
It was a bitter end, but the bigger issue is Soria's mounting ineffectiveness. He blew one-run leads twice on the just-completed road trip, which turned a possible 3-3 split on a swing through Baltimore and Texas into a 1-5 disaster.
On Sunday, Soria inherited a one-run lead after the Royals broke a tie in the top of the ninth. He immediately fell behind 3-0 to the first hitter, Nelson Cruz, before throwing a strike.
Cruz then sent a 368-foot drive over the left-field wall for game-tying homer.
"The homer was on a slider down and in," Soria said. "He's a good hitter, and he hit the ball well. It was not in the spot that I wanted, but it was not a bad pitch. It was down and in."
Napoli followed with a line single to left, but Soria, 3-2, struck out the next two hitters before Andrus sent a flare into right field. Mitch Maier reached it and threw to Hosmer, whose relay appeared to get to Pen~a in time for the out.
"I thought they might hold me (at third)," Napoli said, "but when they tell me to go, I go. I was caught in-between (when the ball got to the plate), and I had to do something there. I was going to try to kick it out of his glove. I thought that was my best chance."
Instead, Napoli just slid under Pen~a's tag and sent the Royals limping back to Kansas City at 23-29 after losing for the 12th time in 15 games... and with growing concerns regarding their All-Star closer.
"Jack will figure it out," Yost said. "And you know why? Because he's a good pitcher. He's an All-Star-caliber guy. That doesn't happen by accident. Guys go through streaks.
"It just happens to be the first time that Jack has gone through this type of struggle, but he'll figure it out, and I think it's a mistake right now to start fooling around with that."
Yost went into the clubhouse following his post-game news conference to convey that confidence to Soria as he dressed at his locker prior to talking to reporters.
"That means a lot to me because he trusts me," Soria said. "We're hoping the next couple of outings things turn around me for the rest of the season. I never think I'm going to blow a save. I'm always positive I'm going to save the game.
"It's just not happening right now."
This was a stinging loss because the Royals built a 5-2 lead against Texas right-hander Alexi Ogando, who entered the game at 5-0 and with a 1.81 ERA that ranked second among American League pitchers.
All five runs scored in the fourth inning, which Pen~a capped with a three-run homer.
Royals rookie Danny Duffy pitched into the seventh before handing a 5-3 lead to the bullpen. Yost used three relievers to get through that inning, but Aaron Crow blew the lead with two outs in the eighth.
Michael Young turned around a Crow fastball on a 3-0 pitch for a two-run homer.
"It was just a mistake all of the way around," Crow said. "Throwing four straight fastballs to that guy when a slider is my best pitch? I knew there was a chance he was going to swing 3-0 because he was the tying run. Just bad execution on my part."
But the Royals regained the lead in the ninth after Chris Getz led off with a drive to right field against Rangers closer Neftali Feliz. Getz ended up at third, on a double and an error, when Cruz bobbled the ball.
Alcides Escobar sent a drive to deep left that easily scored Getz with the go-ahead run.
That got the game to Soria.
"It's not like I'm giving up," he said. "I'll keep battling, and I'll go out there and give my 100 percent. That's all I can do. Keep battling."