This is how five days of misery did not become six: As the shards of Alex Gordon’s broken bat sprayed through the infield, Eric Hosmer dashed from second base, a 180-foot sprint which opened the door for a 3-1 Royals victory over the San Diego Padres in 11 innings on Tuesday night at Petco Park.
The hit by Gordon rolled past the glove of Padres second baseman Jedd Gyorko and trickled into the outfield. Hosmer dove for the plate and his momentum carried him a few feet on his stomach. For Gordon, the aesthetics of the single mattered not.
“I don’t care,” Gordon said. “It works. We needed that.”
His uniform caked in dirt, Hosmer pounded on his helmet and hammered with high-fives the hands of his teammates in the dugout. Billy Butler added an RBI double off Padres reliever Nick Vincent on the next at-bat to create some insurance. The outcome snapped a five-game skid, eased the tension surrounding the club and gave the franchise its first victory at Petco Park.
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“Hopefully, we can start a winning streak now,” Butler said.
The late-night rally allowed the Royals (15-17) to atone for another mostly fruitless night at the plate. The team squandered an opportunity in the ninth. Shortstop Alcides Escobar planted himself on third base with a series of daring plays: He notched an infield single and stole two bases. When Lorenzo Cain floated a pop-up in foul territory near first base, Escobar broke for the plate.
The aggression was not repaid. Padres first baseman Kyle Blanks caught the ball and fired a strike homeward. Catcher Yasmani Grandal dropped a lunging tag as Escobar crossed the plate. The replay appeared “inconclusive,” manager Ned Yost said, and he elected not to challenge the call.
“I wasn’t going to waste the time,” he said, adding, “I thought if I challenged right there, I would have lost it.”
Instead, he turned to his bullpen. Wade Davis flummoxed the Padres during two innings of scoreless relief. Greg Holland recovered from his stumbled the previous night to lock down the save.
Jeremy Guthrie turned in his finest effort of the season, limiting San Diego to four hits across eight innings. His sole blemish was a solo home run by Grandal. Otherwise he protected a bullpen depleted by the follies of the previous night and kept baseball’s worst offense off the board.
“My pitching was benefited from some great defense,” Guthrie said. “And some thick marine air that kept a few balls that were really hit hard in the park.”
On Monday night, the Royals suffered a devastating defeat. Yordano Ventura blew a three-run lead. Holland bungled a save for the first time in 2014. A weary bullpen collapsed in the end.
Yet Yost expected the bitterness to subside by batting practice on Tuesday. “We don’t have a bunch of mopers and complainers and criers,” he said.
Even so, the defeat sent shockwaves rippling through the fan base. Royals general manager Dayton Moore preached the necessity of patience with his wayward team. He insisted there would be no tweaks to the coaching staff, and that “the players ultimately have to step up and produce.”
But he also outlined why there was little reason to expect sweeping changes to the club. Instead, Moore stressed in a telephone conversation on Tuesday afternoon, the team remains committed to their current crop of players and coaching staff. Moore has placed his faith — and staked his reputation — on the ability of the on-field personnel to adjust their approach in the face of adversity.
“As a team, our players, our coaching staff and our front office have all shared a level of frustration with a 14-17 start,” Moore said. “We know we’re capable of being much better. We understand where our deficiencies are. And we’re working through them.”
There are few tweaks available to the roster. The farm system is bereft of top-flight talent at the upper levels. The Royals lack the funds necessary to pursue the two premier remaining free agents, infielder Stephen Drew and first baseman Kendrys Morales, according to people familiar with the situation. And it is too early in the season for extensive trade discussions.
From his seat, Moore believes their chief deficiency is obvious. He cited a lack of production and a spate of over-aggression when batting with runners in scoring position. Night after night, the players struggle to capitalize in these spots, he explained.
“The truth of the matter is we are where we are because we have failed to have quality at-bats in RBI situations,” Moore said.
The Royals entered Tuesday’s game ranked 24th in the majors with a .648 on-base plus slugging percentage with runners in scoring position. They are also one of baseball’s least effective clubs at putting runners there. The team ranked 22nd in on-base percentage (.307) and 25th in slugging percentage (.364).
The pattern held on Tuesday. The team stranded 11 runners on Monday night. They picked up where they left off in the first inning, wasting an Omar Infante double and a walk by Salvador Perez. In the fourth, Erlin worked through a bases-loaded jam by getting Guthrie on an infield pop-up.
Onward they shuffled, unable to ding a pitcher who entered the game with a 5.81 ERA. The only break from routine occurred in the sixth, when Perez walloped a slider into the left-field seats. It was his third homer of the season, and it tied the game.
Five innings later, Hosmer cracked a double. He would score soon after.
“A lot of guys stepped up tonight,” Hosmer said. “It was very much needed.”