The big hit the Royals needed all night didn’t just elude them. It teased and taunted like an antagonistic child playing tag on the playground, giving those in pursuit a glimmer of hope and then darting just out of reach.
The Royals never produced the necessary rally in a 6-1 loss to the Texas Rangers in front of an announced 14,572 (plus 380 dogs) in a Bark at the Park night at Kauffman Stadium. The Royals went 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position and stranded 10 runners on base.
The Rangers (18-22) evened the three-game series at one game apiece headed into Thursday afternoon’s rubber match. The Royals (15-28) will try to win their first series since April 12-14.
“Frustrating day, but like Lo Cain used to say, ‘Mama said there’s gonna be days like this’,” Whit Merrifield said of the frustrating night offensively. “That’s why it’s baseball. You wake up, play again tomorrow.”
Adalberto Mondesi went 3-for-3 with a walk, an RBI and two stolen bases for the Royals, while Kelvin Gutierrez, Martin Maldonado and Nicky Lopez each had two hits.
Rangers starter and former Royals pitcher Mike Minor made the pitches he had to in order to escape largely unscathed after five innings. Minor allowed just one run despite giving up eight hits and two walks through five innings. He also managed to strand eight runners on base in those five innings.
Minor, a left-hander, spent the 2016-17 seasons with the Royals. He spent 2016 in the minors and made 10 appearances combined between Double A and Triple A. In 2017, he made 65 relief appearances and recorded a 2.55 ERA, 17 holds and six saves in nine save opportunities.
In eight previous starts this season, Minor has allowed three runs or fewer seven times and entered the night with a 1.04 WHIP.
On a night when the Royals collected nine hits, a pair of identical scenarios in the second and fourth innings proved back-breaking to their offensive efforts.
In both the second and fourth, Gutierrez and Maldonado hit back-to-back singles to start. Then Billy Hamilton sacrifice bunted to put runners on second and third with one out and the top of the order coming up. Twice this scoring opportunity unfolded, and twice the Royals came away with nothing.
“I was extremely frustrated with my day, personally,” Merrifield said. “Second and third at-bats didn’t even come close to putting a barrel on the ball. Infield back, I got to do a better job. That was a big moment in the game.
“It’s frustrating in that situation because I don’t expect to get a hit every time but I do expect to get a competitive at-bat and get a ground ball or a fly ball to get the run home.”
In the second, Merrifield’s dribbler down the first base line rolled back into fair territory and he got thrown out at first base while Gutierrez never broke for home. The second time around, in the fourth inning, Merrifield struck out swinging after falling behind 0-2 in a nine-pitch at-bat. Lopez flew out to end the inning each time.
“We had a lot of opportunity,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “The first time around we bunted Billy to put two guys in scoring position for Whit and Nicky. Second time around, I thought OK, we’ll do it again because there’s no way that we’ll miss out on it two times in a row, but they made good pitches and we couldn’t get it done.”
Royals starting pitcher Jorge Lopez allowed five runs on seven hits and two walks in 5 2/3 innings. He also struck out seven. Lopez (0-5) has now given up four runs of more in each of his past six starts and seven of nine starts this season.
Willie Calhoun, called up from the minors prior to Wednesday’s game, gave the Rangers a 2-0 lead in the first inning when he launched a 1-2 pitch high over the right field wall for a two-run home run.
The Royals cut the deficit in half in the bottom of the inning. Nicky Lopez doubled to left-center and scored on Mondesi’s RBI single. His double made him the first left-handed hitter with an extra-base hit off Minor this season.
The Rangers added a run in the fourth on a two-out RBI single by Ronald Guzman. Right after catcher Martin Maldonado gunned down Rougned Odor trying to steal second, Jorge Lopez walked Logan Forsythe. A wild pitch put Forsythe in scoring position, and Guzman’s single just got over the head of the infielders to allow Forsythe to score.
The score remained 3-1 until the sixth inning. Jorge Lopez retired the first two batters of the inning on ground balls and looked poised to get through six innings having allowed three runs. Then Forsythe doubled on a sharply-hit ball Hamilton couldn’t haul in near the wall in center field.
With Forsythe on second, Guzman blasted a two-run home run as the Rangers stretched their lead to 5-1. Both hits in the inning came with two outs, and Yost turned to Glenn Sparkman out of the bullpen.
“The plan from the beginning was to keep the ball down with all pitches,” Jorge Lopez said. “The mistakes I’ve made in the past is with off-speed pitches up. We tried to get curveballs. But they were ready and had a good swing. I couldn’t do anything more.”
Sparkman pitched the final three innings, and he allowed a solo home run to Shin-Soo Choo in the ninth. Left-hander Richard Lovelady came in to record the final out of the ninth inning.