It’s not the end, of course. The Royals have 36 games remaining, but the road to postseason now seems staggeringly steep after Thursday’s crushing 4-3 loss to the Chicago White Sox in 12 innings at Kauffman Stadium.
The Royals built a three-run lead for their ace, James Shields, in an effort to halt a four-game skid a prevent suffering a three-game sweep, at home, to the division’s last-place club.
And Shields couldn’t hold it.
The White Sox pulled even against Shields before plating the winning run on Conor Gillaspie’s leadoff homer in the 12th against Luke Hochevar.
Gillaspie drove an 0-1 pitch to right and just beyond a leaping Justin Maxwell. Addison Reed closed out a victory for Jacob Petricka (1-0) in his big-league debut
Hochevar (3-2) was the loser.
Petricka entered the game with one out in the 11th and runners at first and second. He got the game to the 12th by getting Salvy Perez to ground into a double play.
The Royals made it interesting against Reed when Butler led off with a walk, and pinch-runner Jarrod Dyson stole second with no out.
Reed then struck out pinch-hitter David Lough before Chris Getz lined out to short. Emilio Bonifacio ended the game by flying out to center. Reed made saved all three games in the sweep and has 34 saves in 39 chances.
The loss dropped the Royals to 64-62, and pushed them to 6 1/2 games behind idle Oakland for the final American League wild-card spot — with three other clubs in-between.
This was a dreadful loss, particularly since the Royals built that three-run lead and then appeared to benefit from two suspect calls at first base.
Jamey Carroll started the Royals’ 11th with a leadoff walk against David Purcey, the fifth Chicago pitcher. Purcey then hit Alex Gordon with a 1-0 fastball, which moved Carroll to second with no outs.
Eric Hosmer hit a soft fly to center for the first out before the White Sox called on Petricka.
All of that came after the Royals caught a break to start the Chicago 10th inning after Alejandro De Aza’s swinging third strike got past Perez. De Aza sprinted to first and appeared to beat Perez’s throw.
Umpire D.J. Reyburn saw it differently and called De Aza out.
The White Sox can be forgiven for believing they’d been hard done by Reyburn. Their ninth inning ended on a similar play.
Josh Phegley reached second base when his sharp two-out grounder ate up third baseman Mike Moustakas for a two-base error. Jordan Danks followed by lining a ball off reliever Greg Holland that caromed back toward home.
Perez jumped on the ball and threw out Danks at first — in Reyburn’s view. Replays suggested Danks beat the throw, too.
Shields and Chicago left Jose Quintana worked a scoreless game into the fifth inning before the Royals struck for three runs on an RBI single from Bonifacio and two sacrifice flies.
But Shields gave up two runs in the sixth and one in the seventh, which stuck him with a no-decision when Kelvin Herrera took over to start the eighth inning.
Alexei Ramirez pulled Herrera’s third pitch into left, a sinking liner that resulted in an out when Gordon made a spectacular diving catch. If the ball gets by Gordon, it’s a likely triple. Maybe more.
It only delayed the disappointment.
Matt Lindstrom replaced Quintana to start the Royals’ eighth. Quintana permitted three runs and four hits with one walk and seven strikeouts. Shields gave up three runs on nine hits with no walks and eight strikeouts.
The Royals, after building their 3-0 edge, still led 3-2 in the seventh when Gillaspie led off with a single into center against Shields.
A wild pitch moved Gillaspie to second before Josh Phegley’s grounder to first struck the base and caromed into right for an RBI double. Boy, doesn’t that sum up the last 10 days?
Tie game — which Shields preserved by retiring the next three hitters.
The Royals broke open a scoreless tie in the fifth inning after Butler led off with a walk, and Maxwell followed with a single through the left side of the infield.
Moustakas lined a single into center that loaded the bases with no outs for Bonifacio, who lined another RBI into center for a 1-0 lead.
Alcides Escobar’s sacrifice fly to right added another run and moved Moustakas to third. That enabled Moustakas to score on Carroll’s sacrifice fly to center for a 3-0 lead.
It looked good...but Shields couldn’t follow it with a shutdown inning.
Danks started the Chicago sixth with a double into the right-center gap. He held on De Aza’s fly to left but moved to third on Gordon Beckham’s one-out single to center.
Ramirez flicked a full-count change-up into left for an RBI single. The Royals just missed turning a double play on Adam Dunn’s grounder to first when Reyburn ruled Dunn beat the relay.
Replays suggested it was close.
Either way, it cost the Royals another run when Dayan Viciedo blooped an RBI single into center. The three-run lead was down to 3-2.
Quintana set down the first nine Royals before Gordon opened the fourth inning with a grounder past Ramirez at short for a single.
The next two hitters struck out before Quintana ended the inning by picking off Gordon on a stolen-base attempt.
Shields retired the game’s first two hitters before his first-inning yips surfaced on singles by Ramirez and Dunn.
Viciedo grounded to third, so Shields avoided giving up a run, but it still required 24 pitches to post a zero. He had yielded 22 runs in his 26 previous first innings.
Shields went on to retire 10 in a row before Avasail Garcia led off the fifth with a single. Gillaspie followed with a double-play grounder to first with Shields taking the return throw.