Bullpen goes bust again in Royals' 9-6 loss to Angels

After a while, it just gets sad, doesn’t it?

The Royals carried a lead into the eighth inning Wednesday night for the fourth time in their last six games and, for the fourth time, saw it slip away in a 9-6 loss to the Los Angeles Angels at Kauffman Stadium.

It didn’t matter that manager Trey Hillman, in apparent contradiction to everything he said last weekend, chose to summon Joakim Soria with one out in the eighth inning.

“Desperate times call for desperate measures,” Hillman said. “Obviously, we’re in desperate times with what our bullpen’s done. You consider everything.”

That includes, it seems, a new willingness to use Soria for more than four outs.

“With the day off (today),” Hillman said, “I felt good about itPeople may say, `Hey you’re changing your story. I’m not. We have a day off.”

It was no longer a save situation when Soria entered thanks to some already dreadful bullpen work. Whatever the reason or the circumstances, it didn’t work.

Soria inherited a bases-loaded situation in a tie game and surrendered a two-run double to Chone Figgins, a sharp liner just beyond the reach of shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt, and a sacrifice fly before ending a five-run inning.

“It isn’t he’s easy to hit off,” Figgins said. “I haven’t seen him that much, so I was trying to get something up so I could hit a deep fly ball and maybe give a guy a chance to tag.”

For what it’s worth, Ron Mahay replaced Soria in the anti-climactic ninth inning. So Soria didn’t violate Hillman’s previously stated four-out maximum.

The greater issue beyond Soria’s usage was this was another appalling loss.

“I don’t even know what to say,” said reliever Jamey Wright, who loaded the bases by walking two hitters before Soria entered. “I’m in shock right now. I don’t know what’s going on with our bullpen.”

The Royals built a 6-2 lead through six innings behind Brian Bannister, who got two quick outs in the seventh before things got rough.

Howie Kendrick rammed a 419-foot drive over the center-field wall before Reggie Willits finished Bannister with a single. That was Bannister’s 114th pitch, which prompted a call to the Royals’ torch-procession bullpen.

John Bale yielded successive singles to Figgins and Macier Izturis, which produced another run. A double steal then put the tying run on second before Bale slipped a called third strike past Bobby Abreu.

It was a brief reprieve.

Bale started the eighth but exited after Kendry Morales extended his hitting streak to 20 games with a leadoff double. Roman Colon replaced Bale while Soria warmed up.

“We’re pretty confident down there, I feel,” Bale said. “I know I felt really confident in going in there that I could get the job doneIt’s definitely not any fun.”

Colon worked the count full on Mike Napoli before surrendering a game-tying homer into the right-field bullpen that deflated _ but surely didn’t surprise _ the crowd of 18,078. Colon retired Erick Aybar before walking Gary Matthews Jr.

In came Wright, who walked Kendrick and Willits. It was then that Hillman summoned Soria.

“Obviously, I would’ve gone to Jack a little sooner if I'd known we were going to walk two in a row,” Hillman said. “At that point in time, you’re desperate to get in there and try to stop the bleeding. That didn’t work either.”

This makes nine straight losses overall, a season high, and drops the Royals to 20 games under .500 at 37-57. The countdown to 100 losses continues: The Royals must go 26-42 or better in their remaining 68 games to avoid triple digits for the fifth time in eight seasons.

Bannister settled for a no-decision after giving up four runs and eight hits over 6 2/3 innings. He had just one victory in his last seven starts _ despite compiling a 3.30 ERA in that span.

“I was disappointed in not being able to get that last out (in the seventh),” he said, “because I wanted to take the pressure off the bullpen. They’ve been beat up lately, and they threw a lot (in the Tuesday doubleheader).”

Napoli’s homer also meant Angels starter Joe Saunders gained a no-decision despite exiting after 5 2/3 innings with the Royals leading by four runs.

Justin Speier, 4-2, got the victory with 1 1/3 scoreless innings after replacing Saunders. Kevin Jepsen pitched the eighth before Brian Fuentes worked the ninth for his MLB-leading 30th save.

Colon, 1-1, and got tagged with a blown save _ the 16th blown save by the bullpen in 33 opportunities.

Figgins paced the Angels’ 15-hit attack with three singles in addition to his decisive twp-run double. Macier Izturis drove in a career-high four runs and had one of LA’s three homers.

The Royals finished with 11 hits, including two apiece by David DeJesus, Mark Teahen, Ryan Freel and Alberto Callaspo. Teahen had two RBIs. The Royals built leads of 2-0, 5-2 and 6-2 before Bannister faded and the bullpen mucked things up.

“I’ve never seen anything like this with the bullpen,” Hillman said. “It’s home runs. It’s base on balls. It’s broken bat base hits. It’s ineffectiveness.”

And it’s a sad mess.