It takes some doing to waste a pitching performance as strong as Brian Bannister delivered Tuesday night against the Minnesota Twins. These are the Royals, though, and they met the challenge in a 2-1 loss at Kauffman Stadium.
There was the offensive inability to capitalize on an inefficient Scott Baker, who labored through 111 pitches in just five innings.
Add 2 1/3 innings of nothing against one-time Royals reject Bobby Keppel before José Mijares, Matt Guerrier and Joe Nathan closed out the game.
Mix in a just-can’t-happen baserunning error when David DeJesus got picked off first base in the fifth inning while Baker lurched through a 15-pitch battle with Willie Bloomquist.
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And then the killer: A crushing throwing error by first baseman Billy Butler on a potential double-play grounder by Justin Morneau in the sixth inning. The tie-breaking and eventual winning run scored a bit later on a sacrifice fly by Michael Cuddyer.
“It’s a play you’ve got to make,” Butler said. “If I make that play, we’re not playing catch-up. And we couldn’t come back. It’s a play I’ve made before; I’ve made it a million times.”
Not this time.
Quite a witches’ brew, wasn’t it? No offense. Bad baserunning. Defensive breakdown.
So, yes, Bannister, 5-6, gets a tough-luck loss after allowing just one earned run in seven innings. And, OK, that one earned run was really earned — a 426-foot bomb of a homer by Morneau that erased the Royals’ 1-0 lead in the fourth.
Even Bannister was willing to admire it.
“Hank Aaron used to say it’s not how far you hit them over the fence,” he said. “It’s just the fact they go over the fence.
“But from a pitcher’s perspective, as long as you’re giving it up and have to stand out there and watch him run around the bases, you might as well give up a beauty.”
At least Bannister emerged with his sense of humor intact after a tight, efficient effort simply produced a loss. Contrast that with Baker, who improved to 6-6, while wheezing through the minimum five innings necessary for a victory.
“He grinded his way out and got a W out of it,” Bannister said.
Nathan got his 20th save in 22 chances by striking out two in a one-two-three ninth inning. It marked his 32nd career save against the Royals while lowering his ERA to 0.76 in 47 appearances.
The loss dropped the Royals back to 10 games under .500 at 33-43.
The Royals scored first for the seventh straight game after DeJesus opened their first inning with a double. He got no farther when Bloomquist and Butler grounded out to the left side but scored when Mike Jacobs blooped an RBI single into center.
Bannister nursed that 1-0 lead until one out in the fourth when Morneau crushed a full-count offering for his 19th homer of the season.
The Royals loaded the bases with one out in their fourth on singles by Jacobs, Teahen and Miguel Olivo. It came to nothing when Mitch Maier popped out, and Tony Peña struck out.
Peña did battle Baker through an 11-pitch at-bat that included five straight fouls on a full count before swinging through a pitch. That pushed Baker’s workload to 86 pitches.
DeJesus opened the fifth with a walk but, while Baker was struggling through that extended battle with Bloomquist, got picked off. Bloomquist eventually flied out after fouling off eight full-count offerings.
“We’re not trying to steal a base,” manager Trey Hillman said. “We’ve got a contact guy at the plate … You can’t get picked off.”
Only he did.
Joe Mauer started the Minnesota sixth with a single, but Bannister got exactly what he needed when Morneau pulled a sharp grounder to Butler. So it seemed until Butler threw the ball past Peña and into left field.
“It was tailor-made with the guys involved in the play,” Hillman said. “He didn’t have to rush it. I didn’t feel he did rush it. It was just inaccurate. It was a high-velocity throw, and it was inaccurate.”
Instead of two outs and nobody on, the Twins had runners at first and third with no outs. Bannister struck out Jason Kubel, which should have ended the inning, before Cuddyer delivered a sacrifice fly to right. The Royals had chances thereafter.
They had two on and one out in the sixth against Keppel, but Olivo struck out before shortstop Brendan Harris made a nice play on José Guillen’s grounder up the middle.
The Royals got two two-out singles in the eighth against Mijares, but Guerrier stran
ded both runners by retiring Olivo. That was it. They went down weakly, as usual, against Nathan in the ninth.
TODAY:Minnesota at Kansas City, 1:10