The Royals are suddenly showing signs of throwing everything into reverse again after a second straight tough loss to Toronto at the Rogers Centre.
On an afternoon when they made a slew of impressive defensive plays, it was an error by shortstop Alcides Escobar in the eighth inning that proved decisive in a crushing 4-2 loss to the Blue Jays.
Escobar lost sight of a potential inning-ending, double-play grounder when screened by Munenori Kawasaki, who broke from second on the play. Kawasaki scored the tying run before the Royals could retrieve the ball.
“The guy blocked me,” Escobar said. “I saw the ball late, and the ball beat me. But I make that play all of the time. The guy blocked me, and I could do nothing about it.”
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That was bad; what came soon thereafter was worse.
The Royals watched helplessly as Toronto took a 3-2 lead when Aaron Crow issued a bases-loaded, two-out walk to Brett Lawrie — on four pitches. Crow then walked Rajai Davis on four pitches for another run.
“I just lost command of the strike zone,” Crow said. “In that situation, it can’t happen. Yeah, it sucked.”
The Royals thought, and replays seemed to confirm, that Crow’s 3-0 pitch to Davis was actually a strike. Accordingly, when manager Ned Yost walked to the mound to summon Tim Collins, he blistered umpire Will Little.
That resulted in Yost’s ejection.
“Granted, I understand (Crow) had thrown seven balls in a row,” Yost said. “But when you throw a strike, you get another opportunity. I’d just seen enough. You don’t miss pitches in a crucial situation like that.”
The Royals were already unhappy with Little, a minor-league replacement, for a dreadful missed call at first base Friday night that blunted an eighth-inning comeback in a 3-2 loss in the series opener.
While Crow’s walks were ruinous, the Royals should have been out of the inning with a 2-1 lead if not for Escobar’s error. All three of Toronto’s runs were unearned.
The Royals are now 69-66 and those renewed postseason hopes, which blossomed earlier this week with a five-game winning streak, are now back on life support:
They are 61/2 games behind Tampa Bay for the American League’s final wild-card slot.
Let’s reset this mess: The Royals built a 2-0 lead against Toronto knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, 11-12, by scoring single runs in the second and third innings on RBI singles by Escobar and Eric Hosmer.
Royals starter Jeremy Guthrie nursed the shutout into the seventh inning before the Jays broke through on Josh Thole’s two-out RBI single.
Even then, left fielder Alex Gordon ended the inning by thwarting Thole’s bid for a double. It was Gordon’s second assist of the game. Right fielder David Lough also had an assist earlier in the game.
“Great defense,” said Guthrie, who permitted one run and eight hits in seven innings. “We had the three outfield assists, and we made a couple of diving plays. That’s five extra outs that I was lucky to get.”
Guthrie admitted he wanted to return for the eighth inning.
“I would have liked to have lost that game on my own…,” he said. “We have a great bullpen, and I think, ultimately, that’s why Ned went to them. They have been phenomenal all season.”
Yost agreed that Guthrie, after 92 pitches, was strong enough to return for the eighth inning.
“My mind-set is we’ve got a one-run lead,” Yost said. “We’ve got the best bullpen in the American League. Let’s get three outs and get to Holly (closer Greg Holland). It just didn’t work out. We couldn’t get it done.”
It slipped away in a hurry, too.
Kelvin Herrera, 5-7, began the inning by yielding a pinch single to Kawasaki on a grounder back through the box. Anthony Gose popped to short, but Jose Reyes floated a single into center.
That moved Kawasaki to second and prompted the Royals to replace Herrera with Will Smith for a left-on-left matchup with Ryan Goins.
It should have worked.
Smith got Goins to hit a potential double-play grounder to short, but Escobar booted the ball. Kawasaki scored the tying run, and the Jays had runners at first and second with one out.
A walk to Edwin Encarnacion loaded the bases. When Toronto sent Mark DeRosa up as a pinch-hitter for Adam Lind, the Royals countered by bringing in Crow.
DeRosa struck out on three pitches, although two swings were on pitches that appeared to be well out of the strike zone. Crow then walked the next two hitters.
“Throwing eight straight balls is a terrible way to lose the game,” he said. “Jeremy had pitched a heck of a game. The bullpen came in in the eighth, and we really didn’t do our job. That’s on us.”
The Royals, as they did Friday, didn’t go quietly against in the ninth against Toronto closer Casey Janssen. They put runners at first and third with one out before he closed out Dickey’s victory with his 26th save.
“That was a tough loss,” Guthrie said. “Just as tough as (Friday’s loss) and the other 64 we have. At the end of the day, they all count for one. It’s a cliche but, if you really live by it and believe it, life is a lot easier.”
Easy to say, anyway.