That starter Ervin Santana is off and running as the favorite to again lead the majors in homers is only one reason the Royals are winless through two games after Wednesday’s 5-2 loss to the Chicago White Sox.
An attack that, seemingly, left its punch in the Cactus League must shoulder its share of the blame, too, after generating five hits against Jake Peavy and five relievers on another cool afternoon at U.S. Cellular Field.
That same lineup, remember, failed to score in Monday’s season opener after leading all teams in runs, batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage while rolling to a 25-7-2 record in spring training.
“It’s two games,” third baseman Mike Moustakas said. “We’re not 0-162. We’re going to be OK. This is a good team. There are a lot of great players here. We’ve got great pitching. You can’t judge anything off of two games.”
Santana permitted just five hits in six innings, but the first three left the park. The first two came on first-pitch fastballs to start an inning — to Adam Dunn in the second and Tyler Flowers in the third.
The other homer, a decisive two-run drive by Dayan Viciedo in the fourth, was also on a fastball. Left fielder Alex Gordon nearly pulled that one back. Nearly.
“I almost had it,” Gordon said. “It went off my glove. If it wasn’t so cold, and my glove wasn’t so hard, it might have stayed in. Instead, it just hit the tip of it and came out.”
Santana led the majors last year by yielding 39 homers while pitching for the Angels. He ranked fourth in the American League with 26 in 2011, and fifth in the league with 27 in 2010.
“Yeah, he’s going to give up homers because he throws strikes,” manager Ned Yost said. “He’s on the attack, and he throws strikes. The majority of his pitches were in really good locations.
“And the three homers they hit, for me, you kind of take your hat off to them. They were all in pretty good spots.”
Even so, this was the rule; not the exception — and it more than counter-balanced an otherwise strong effort: eight strikeouts and one walk.
“The only one (that was a bad pitch) was the one to Dunn,” Santana said. “It came back to the middle. The others were good pitches.”
For what it’s worth, the White Sox didn’t seem to think the ball was carrying particularly well — despite hitting four homers.
“We hit them in the right spots,” first baseman Paul Konerko said. “The ball wasn’t really going anywhere out there today ... A couple of them just died.”
Four didn’t die, but that’s still only half of the story.
The Royals were just one for eight with runners in scoring position. The low point occurred when they squandered a bases-loaded chance with one out in seventh, when trailing by two runs, against the Chicago bullpen.
Gordon hit a not-deep-enough fly to left before Alcides Escobar ended the inning with a fly to right.
And it didn’t help that, immediately thereafter, Luke Hochevar began his career as a reliever by surrendering a homer to Alexei Ramirez in the bottom of the inning.
Peavy worked the first six innings before the bullpen closed out the victory. He allowed four hits and two runs (one earned) while striking out six and walking none.
“He’s a great pitcher,” Moustakas said, “and he’s always been a great pitcher. When he has his stuff, he’s spot on, and he’s tough. He commanded all of his pitches today.”
Dunn jumped on Santana’s first pitch in the second inning, an 89-mph fastball, and drove it 431 feet to right for a no-doubt homer and a 1-0 lead.
An error on Ramirez provided the Royals with an opening in the third. He slammed into Viciedo in short left while the two pursued Chris Getz’s one-out flare. The ball fell to the ground.
Peavy retired Gordon on a fly to deep center, but Escobar’s two-out single to left produced a run when the ball got past Viciedo for another error. Getz scored all the way from first.
The tie didn’t survive one pitch into the Chicago third.
Flowers turned around another 89-mph fastball from Santana for his second homer of the season. Flowers’ blast in Monday’s season opener against James Shields produced the only run in Chicago’s 1-0 victory.
Santana started the fourth with a 79-mph slider to Alex Rios; the result was a fly to left, but the rest of the inning didn’t go as well.
Dunn drew a walk on a full count and, after Konerko struck out, Viciedo drove a Santana fastball to deep left. Gordon climbed the wall and stretched — in vain. Chicago led 4-1.
The Royals got one run back in the sixth, but blew a great chance in the seventh against three White Sox relievers.
Jesse Crain started the inning — and Dewayne Wise also replaced Viciedo for defensive purposes in left but couldn’t handle Eric Hosmer’s short leadoff drive. The ball clanged off Wise’s glove for a two-base error.
Hosmer went to third when Lorenzo Cain served a sinking single into right. After Crain struck out Jeff Francoeur on three pitches, the White Sox called on Donnie Veal for a left-on-left matchup against Getz.
The Royals countered by sending up Miguel Tejada, who drew a walk that loaded the bases for Gordon, whose drive to left was too short to advance the runners.
Chicago manager Robin Ventura again went to his bullpen for Matt Lindstrom, who ended the inning — and stranded three runners — by retiring Escobar on a fly to right.
“We went through this last year,” Gordon said, “where we went through these big situations, and it just didn’t happen. Hopefully, we learn from it and change it — change it (Thursday). We’ve got to get one win out of here.”
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