CLEVELAND | It's a positive, certainly, that no longer are the Royals content to break even on a six-game road trip. Beyond that, they found little to like Thursday afternoon in seeing another late lead slip away in a 5-2 loss to the Cleveland Indians.
"A lot of times," third baseman Mark Teahen said, "you’ll hear guys talk about a team win. This was a team loss."
Wasted scoring opportunities. A couple of costly errors. And a couple of bad pitches in crucial situations. That covers just about everyone, doesn't it?
Grady Sizemore delivered the decisive blow with a three-run homer against struggling reliever Ron Mahay that capped a four-run eighth inning and pinned a loss on Gil Meche.
"He just kind of reached out and touched somebody," Mahay said. "Live by the slider, die by the slider. I got it up a little bit. But if I had to do it all over again, I'd do it again."
It marked the second time in four days the Royals failed to protect a lead in the eighth inning. The loss also concluded a 3-3 trip, which began with two victories in Texas, and dropped the Royals to 8-7.
What made this one worse is they squandered a terrific outing by Meche, who nursed a 2-1 lead into the eighth inning by limiting the Indians to two hits. Cleveland's only run before the eighth scored on a throwing error by John Buck in the second inning.
"We had the game right there," Meche said, "and I just didn’t get it done. I needed to go through that inning."
Meche, 1-1, had thrown 101 pitches through seven innings but had retired 16 straight batters. Manager Trey Hillman opted against going to the bullpen to begin the eighth.
"He'd had an extra day (of rest)," Hillman said, "and I just evaluated his stuff. In that (same) situation, I'd probably do exactly what I did -- stick with a guy who has good stuff. He had limited damage all day."
That changed in the eighth when Ryan Garko led off with a double into the right-center gap. Ex-Royal Tony Graffanino replaced Garko as a pinch-runner and tried to score when Meche threw wildly to first after fielding Ben Francisco's bunt.
Second baseman Alberto Callaspo, backing up the play, made a strong throw to the plate that retired Graffanino and preserved the one-run lead.
The reprieve proved temporary when Meche hung an 0-2 curve to pinch-hitter Travis Hafner, who pulled the ball through the right side for a single. Francisco raced to third.
"That was the biggest pitch of the game," Meche lamented. "I was going for a punch-out right there, and I just didn't get it down."
Hillman stuck with Meche against Asdrubal Cabrera, who fouled off three straight fastballs before sending a soft grounder to second that Callaspo booted.
Francisco scored the tying run, and the Indians had runners at first and second with one out and the top of the order -- Sizemore -- coming up.
Hillman summoned Mahay over Juan Cruz, each of whom were warming, only "to some degree" to get a lefty-lefty matchup.
The numbers, while limited, argued against Mahay. Sizemore was two for seven with a homer against Mahay but hitless in four previous at-bats against Cruz. Further, Cruz has been sharper this season than Mahay, albeit again in a limited sample.
"Ronnie had had pretty good success (against Sizemore)," Hillman said. "Grady did have a home run off Ronnie previously. But I felt we had a little better opportunity (with Mahay) to limit damage. It didn't work."
Sizemore clocked Mahay's second pitch deep over the right-field wall.
"I got up there with an opportunity to open the game up," Sizemore said. "I was trying to get a base hit and score a run, but it worked out."
The rally benefited Jensen Lewis, who improved to 2-2 after working two scoreless innings in relief of starter Anthony Reyes. Kerry Wood pitched a one-two-three ninth for his third save -- all against the Royals.
It might have been different had the Royals seized upon some early chances. They got nothing after loading the bases with no outs in the fourth against Reyes and nothing again after putting runners at first and third with one out in the eighth against Lewis.
"If you don't take advantage of those opportunities early in the ballgame," Hillman said, "and don't take a little pressure off a guy who has quality stuff, the later it goes in the game, you're playing with fire.
"Today, that's what I felt happened to Gil."
It also left the Royals with a 3-3 trip that could have been 4-2 -- or even 5-1 if not for blowing a two-run lead Sunday in the eighth inning in Texas.
"We're not content with a 3-3," Teahen said. "It's not terrible, but we put ourselves in a position to win more games than that. We're playing good ball but, today, we just didn't come up with any clutch hits and didn’t close out a game."