The road back Friday, once the Royals stirred to life, was just too long. This 6-3 loss to the Oakland A’s was like landing a knockdown in the final round. Only a knockdown, though. No knockout.
It made for a particularly disappointing case of “too little, too late” after two stirring victories over Cleveland fueled a strong day of walk-up sales that produced a crowd of 35,518 at Kauffman Stadium.
The Royals put them all through a snoozefest until the ninth inning.
Much of that was due, of course, to A’s lefty Tommy Milone, who retired the first 11 Royals and allowed little more than squat thereafter before he weakened within two outs of his first career shutout.
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“He can command his fastball to both sides of the plate,” Royals manager Ned Yost said, “but when that change-up is on, it’s almost unhittable. He very seldom hangs it, and he’s got great arm speed.
“So when he throws it, his arm speed makes it look like a fastball. Then it just dies on you. It creates real problems for your timing at the plate.… We really couldn’t get anything going for the first eight innings.”
Perhaps, this shouldn’t be a surprise.
Milone (8-7) held the Royals to one run in six innings in a 2-1 victory on May 18 at Oakland. That was the middle segment in a three-game sweep by the A’s in which the Royals scored all of five runs.
The Royals finally solved Milone in the ninth, when they strung together five straight one-out hits. Unfortunately, the A’s, aided by an error by right fielder Lorenzo Cain, had just scored three soft runs in the top of the inning.
“Wish I could go back and pitch that ninth inning again,” Milone said. “Even in that ninth inning, they were just putting together good at-bats and putting the ball in play. Overall, we won, that’s all that matters.”
Royals starter Wade Davis (4-7) rebounded from a horrific outing last Saturday at Minnesota by delivering a quality start: three runs and six hits in seven innings.
Davis needed just 10 pitches to complete the first inning — a 43-pitch improvement over his first inning against the Twins. Recall that he threw 16 more that day in the second inning, without getting an out, before exiting.
“I’ve been pretty antsy,” he said, “wanting to get back out there and get things going in the right direction. They scored a couple of runs, and Milone obviously wasn’t letting us get (anything going).
“But it was better than last time.”
It was also more in keeping with his recent work. Take away that nightmarish start at Minnesota, and Davis has permitted nine earned runs in 312/3 innings over his last five outings.
“Tonight, I thought Wade Davis’ stuff was as good as it’s been all year long,” Yost said. “They hit two balls hard.”
It just wasn’t good enough.
Milone carried a two-hit shutout into the ninth inning before the Royals broke through with four straight one-out hits: doubles by David Lough and Alcides Escobar, and singles by Eric Hosmer and Billy Butler.
That might have made things interesting had the A’s not just doubled a 3-0 lead to 6-0. Instead, it merely forced Oakland manager Bob Melvin to summon the game’s most reliable closer.
“His pitch count was right there for him to finish the game,” Melvin said, “and he was making his pitches all night long. He didn’t even look like he broke a sweat.
“Gets the (first) guy out of the (ninth) inning and then they string four hits together and I’ve got to take him out. But, boy, I don’t know that we’ve seen him better, especially on the road.”
Grant Balfour surrendered an RBI single to Salvy Perez before getting the final two outs for his 40th straight successful save. That streak, which is the longest active run in the majors, includes 22 this season.
Those 40 straight saves also tie an Oakland record set by Hall of Fame closer Dennis Eckersley in 1991-92.
“It’s an accomplishment,” Balfour said. “I don’t like to look into it too much — I’m superstitious, obviously. It’s not something I set out to do. It just happened.”
Oakland opened the scoring in the third inning after Josh Reddick’s one-out double to left-center field. When Eric Sogard followed with a soft single to left, third-base coach Mike Gallego gambled and waved home Reddick.
If Lough makes an accurate throw, Reddick is probably out at the plate. But the throw was off-line, and the A’s led 1-0. Sogard took second on the throw and moved to third on Coco Crisp’s grounder to second.
Davis kept the deficit at one run by striking out Seth Smith.
The Royals didn’t get a baserunner until Hosmer’s two-out single in the fourth. Butler followed with a fielder’s-choice grounder to short.
Davis started the fifth inning by walking John Jaso, and paid immediately for the sin when Reddick pumped an RBI triple into the right-center gap. Crisp’s one-out fly to left scored Reddick for a 3-0 lead.
That was it until the ninth.
The A’s had runners at first and third with one out after singles by Brandon Moss and Jaso against J.C. Gutierrez when Reddick sent a fly to short right. Cain charged the ball, but it skipped off his glove for an error.
The official scoring was a sacrifice fly — no at-bat and an RBI for Reddick —and a two-base error enabling Reddick to reach second and Jaso to go from first to third.
“I just missed it,” Cain said. “Flat out missed it. It tailed away from me. It had some spin on it, but at the same time I’ve got to make that play. I make those plays all the time, but I just missed it and it hurt us at the end.”
Crisp rammed a two-out single into center that scored both runners.