Here, we have a failure to communicate, a failure to execute and – no surprise – another dispiriting night for the Royals in this grinding summer. Cue up the eighth inning Monday in a 4-2 loss to the Chicago White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field.
It started with the Royals squandering a chance to break a tie game with the top of their order after putting runners at first and third with no outs. The main problem: a botched squeeze bunt.
Then it got worse when Luis Mendoza looped a curveball to Gordon Beckham with one out in the Chicago eighth. It was, most likely, Mendoza’s worst pitch in an otherwise solid performance. It was certainly his most costly.
“A first-pitch hanging curveball,” he agreed. “I tried to get a first-pitch strike, but he just stayed back on it.
Gordon Beckham planted that mistake in the left-field seats for his first homer since June 20, and no, that wasn’t quite it. Mendoza walked the next hitter, Jordan Danks, before yielding Kevin Youkilis’ RBI double on a gapper to right-center.
That was it.
Chicago starter Chris Sale, who missed his last turn because of arm fatigue, got the victory after limiting the Royals to two runs in eight innings before Addison Reed pitched the ninth for his 20th save.
“I went through a little dead arm period,” Sale said, “but it’s par for the course. It’s all behind us now. We’ve got a couple months left and we're going to have to make a push (to make postseason). It’s not going to be easy.”
The Royals nearly chose Sale (remember?) with the fourth overall pick in the 2010 draft. Instead, they picked shortstop Christian Colon, who is currently playing well at Class AA Northwest Arkansas.
But Sale is 13-3 with a 2.59 ERA.
About the top of the eighth:
Just-arrived Tony Abreu started a promising threat with a double past third. The Royals then chose not to bunt with Chris Getz, who responded with a single up the middle. Abreu stopped at third.
“I told Getzie,” manager Ned Yost said, “if (Abreu) singles, we’re going to bunt. But if he hits a double, we’re going to take three cracks at it.”
Danks charged the ball smartly from an already shallow position and prevented Abreu from scoring. Still, runners on first and third with no outs.
Sale retired Alex Gordon on a soft liner to short; Alexei Ramirez made a fine diving catch for the first out. Then the Royals bunted – a squeeze by Alcides Escobar. It wasn’t anywhere near good enough in approach or execution.
“I’m trying to bunt to the third-base line,” Escobar said, “because the pitcher is a little bit in. I’m trying to get it past him to the third-base line.”
Instead, Sale gathered in the ball easily and tagged Abreu an acre away from the plate.
Where to start?
Escobar and Abreu each reacted as if the play was a suicide squeeze, where the runner breaks on the pitch, and the hitter is required to make contact in any way possible.
But it was a safety squeeze, where the batter has the option to not offer at the pitch, and the runner doesn’t break until the ball is put into play on the ground.
The ball probably should have gone to the right side. With Getz at first, Paul Konerko had to protect the base and, therefore, would not be easily positioned to make the play.
“That’s a situation,” Yost said, “that’s tailor-made for (Escobar) – first and third, one out, and it’s a safety squeeze – for him to take a pitch and bunt it to first base…He just didn’t make a good bunt.”
If Escobar gets the ball down to the right side, Abreu probably scores easily. If Sale throws a pitch that isn’t easily bunted to the right side, Escobar can simply take the pitch because Abreu shouldn’t be running.
But, yes, Escobar can still bunt the ball to the left side if he makes Youkilis field the ball from third. In that case, on a safety squeeze, Abreu can simply follow a step behind Youkilis.
If Youkilis holds the ball, Abreu retreats to third. Escobar is then likely safe at first, and the Royals have the bases loaded with one out. If Youkilis throws to first, Abreu is probably positioned to come home with the go-ahead run.
None of that happened.
Escobar bunted the ball to Sale, who made a routine pick-up. Abreu charged from third and was an easy out. Sale then ended the inning by striking out Lorenzo Cain on three pitches.
The Royals put the tying runs on base against Reed in the ninth, but Eric Hosmer grounded into a game-ending double play.
Mendoza, 5-8, allowed four runs and seven hits in 7 1/3 innings. He and Sale hooked up when the teams last met – on July 15 at Kauffman Stadium. Sale permitted 10 hits that night but just one run over eight innings in a 2-1 victory.
“He’s a tough pitcher,” Mendoza said. “He’s got 12 or 13 wins and a low ERA. I know I’ve got to battle and not give up too many runs.”
The Royals, ever so briefly, had a lead.
It was 1-1 when Butler opened the seventh inning with a drive that cleared the left-field wall for his club-leading 21st homer, which matched a career high set in 2009.
It was also the ninth time this season that a Butler homer put the Royals in front, although this lead only lasted until Konerko opened the Chicago seventh with a line-drive homer to left against Mendoza.
“He hit a 3-1 pitch,” Yost said. “I take my hat off to Konerko. I want Mendy to go after him in those situations. I don’t want to walk the leadoff hitter after we’ve just scored.”
Mendoza limited damage in the second inning after Alex Rios rammed a one-out triple into the right-center gap, and A.J. Pierzynski followed with an RBI double past first. Mendoza then hit Ramirez in the left wrist with an 0-2 pitch.
The White Sox settled for one run when Dayan Viciedo grounded into an around-the-horn double play started by Abreu.
The Royals got even on Jeff Francoeur’s two-out homer in the fifth.