OAKLAND, Calif. | If the Royals were going to clinch a losing season with more than a month left in the season — as they did Wednesday afternoon — that distinction merited something beyond the ordinary.
And, boy, did they conjure up a beaut of a bummer in a 10-4 loss to the Oakland A’s.
It started with a struggling Brian Bannister, winless now in his last six starts, yielding three runs in the first inning. As bad as that was, it soon got a lot worse for Bannister and the Royals.
Bannister left the game after retiring Cliff Pennington for the first out in the second inning on a pop to short. The official word: shoulder fatigue. Bannister said it’s grown progressively worse over the last month.
“I don’t think it’s anything serious,” he said. “It’s just that I haven’t been recovering the way I normally do. After my last start, I didn’t recover much at all. I just didn’t have much at all today.”
Bannister’s early exit meant bench coach John Gibbons, subbing again for an absent manager Trey Hillman, had no alternative but to unleash the Royals’ toxic bullpen — and the game, no surprise, quickly got out of hand.
Yasuhiko Yabuta gave up five more runs before getting the final two outs in the second inning. Four came on one swing by backup catcher Landon Powell. Bruce Chen took over in the third inning, after the Royals had closed to within 8-3, and gave up two more runs.
Yabuta admitted he wasn’t ready for the early summons, and Chen said he wasn’t sharp after a five-day break since his last appearance.
“But that’s an excuse,” Yabuta said. “I’m supposed to do my job when they bring me in.”
Chen saved the bullpen somewhat by working three scoreless innings after his early stumble blunted the possibility of a comeback.
“I was warmed up and everything,” he said. “So no excuses. I have to be sharp (when called upon) ”
Sorry, that’s not all.
José Guillen lasted just two at-bats in his first start since July 22, as the DH, before leaving the game because of right hamstring tendon soreness. He missed 37 games because of a sprained right knee before returning Tuesday night as a pinch-hitter.
“It’s just sore,” he said. “It’s not a big thing. They just didn’t want to take a chance. It’s nothing like it was before. It’s just on the inside (of the hamstring).”
The loss dropped the Royals to 51-82 and, with 29 games remaining, ensures them of a losing record for the 14th time in 15 years.
“It’s been a horrible season,” Guillen said. “It’s been a horrible season for me and a horrible season pretty much for everybody.”
The loss also prevented the Royals from winning just their second series since late June and from completing a winning multi-city road trip for the first time all season. Instead, they settled for a 3-4 trip after splitting four weekend games in Seattle.
Bannister’s problems and this latest bullpen collapse overshadowed several silver linings. Left fielder David DeJesus and second baseman Willie Bloomquist each took away a pair of hits.
DeJesus made two spectacular diving catches; Bloomquist snagged a pair of line drives, including one on an air-stepping leap. So, yes, the damage could have been worse.
Mike Jacobs hit his 17th homer and just missed No. 18. Mitch Maier and Josh Anderson each had two hits, while Alberto Callaspo contributed a triple that boosted the Royals’ MLB-leading total to 44.
None of it really mattered after the A’s beat up Bannister, Yabuta and Chen. Bannister is 7-12 after allowing three runs in 1 1/3 innings.
“In the first inning,” Gibbons said, “you could tell Banny just didn’t seem like the same guy. He was up with everything, and that normally doesn’t happen.”
Oakland starter Trevor Cahill wasn’t sharp, either. He lasted just five innings, but won for only the second time in eight starts and improved to 8-12. He allowed three runs and six hits.
The A’s closed out the game with three lefties who, before Tuesday, were pitching for Class AAA Sacramento. Brad Kilby, Jerry Blevins and Dana Eveland permitted one run and three hits over the final four innings.
Oakland finished with 11 hits, including two apiece from its first four batters: Adam Kennedy, Rajai Davis, Ryan Sweeney and Jack Cust.
Sweeney’s two-run single keyed the A’s three-run first inning. Oakland then feasted on Yabuta for five hits and walk in the second. Powell’s slam was a no-doubter to center that boosted the lead to 8-0.
The Royals stung Cahill for three runs in the third inning, but the A’s answered immediately with two against Chen, who started the inning with successive walks. That made it 10-3 and, effectively, finished the Royals.
“Definitely tough,” DeJesus said. “It took an hour and a half to get through three innings. They just took it right to us right away. What can you do in that situation?”