Kansas City Royals

Royals rally late, can’t overcome mistakes against the Angels

The Royals offense came to life late, but they’d dug too deep a hole to climb out in the final two innings. Instead they dropped their fourth consecutive game and put the Angels in position to potentially sweep the three-game series on Sunday.

Royals starting pitcher Jakob Junis made too many mistakes against an opportunistic Angels squad that got home runs from Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani as the Royals lost 6-3 in front of an announced 43,415 at Angel Stadium on Saturday night.

Whit Merrifield had two hits and two RBIs to lead the Royals (15-31), who’d scored four runs in their previous three games. They scored three runs in the eighth inning once they got into the Angels’ bullpen, and they brought the go-ahead run to the plate. However, they couldn’t come up with a game-changing hit.

“The first five guys are the guys that are producing the runs,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “When the bottom of our order gets on base, we score runs and that was the case tonight.”

The three-run eighth started with back-to-back singles by the No. 8 and No. 9 hitters, Martin Maldonado and Billy Hamilton, and Merrifield’s two-run double assured the Royals wouldn’t get shut out.

Merrifield scored when Adalberto Mondesi’s single dropped into shallow center field to make it a two-run game, 5-3. The inning ended with two runners on and Jorge Soler, who leads the team with 10 home runs, at the plate. Soler struck out.

“Whether it’s the bottom of the lineup, top of the lineup, we string a couple hits together it can be contagious,” Merrifield said.

Junis (3-5) gave up two home runs and two doubles, and those four hits accounted for the majority of the damage. He allowed five runs (four earned), six hits and two walks in seven innings.

After having walked a career-high five in his last start — a 6-1 loss to the Phillies — Junis didn’t walk a batter until the sixth inning.

“I was commanding my fastball to both sides of the plate,” Junis said. “I felt like I was in a groove. Right where Maldy was setting up, I was throwing it in there. Walks are going to happen. As long as you can limit them to one or two a game, usually it’s not going too bad. I never want five like I did last time.”

Trout’s 250th career home run, a 473-foot colossal blast, gave the Angels (22-23) a 1-0 lead with one out in the first inning. Trout joined Alex Rodriguez as the only players with 250 homers and 150 stolen bases prior to turning 28.

The Angels also scored within the first two batters of the second inning. Kole Calhoun’s leadoff double to left field put him in scoring position for Jonathan Lucroy. Lucroy singled up the middle to score Calhoun and give their starter Griffin Canning an early two-run edge.

Canning, a second-round pick in 2017, made those runs stand up for most of the night. The rookie came into the night having made all three of his previous starts in the majors this season. His longest of those three outings went 5 1/3 innings.

Against the Royals recently-struggling offense, Canning didn’t even give up his first hit until Hunter Dozier lined a single to center in the fifth inning.

The score remained 2-0 until the sixth inning when Junis walked Trout and Ohtani jumped on a fastball that wasn’t as far inside as intended. Ohtani smacked it for a high-arcing two-run homer to right field.

“There’s definitely frustration any time you give up a home run like that in the sixth inning,” Junis said. “It’s not the first time that’s happened to me. It’s been an issue that I’ve been working on, trying to get better at. All I can say is at least it wasn’t a middle-middle pitch. We went it. We got it in there. It just wasn’t far enough in. He took advantage of it. He’s a good hitter.”

The next batter, Andrelton Simmons doubled off the left field wall, and Alex Gordon’s errant throw to second enabled Simmons to advance to third. Calhoun’s sacrifice fly brought in the inning’s third run (unearned).

Canning finished the night having not allowed a run on three hits and one walk in seven innings.

The Royals clawed back within striking distance with three runs in the top of the eighth, but with two outs and two on in the bottom of the inning, Royals reliever Jake Diekman gave up an RBI double down the left field line to Jonathan Lucroy to give the Angels a three-run edge going into the ninth.

The Royals’ seven, eight and nine hitters went down in order in the ninth.

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Lynn Worthy covers the Kansas City Royals and Major League Baseball for The Star. A native of the Northeast, he’s covered high school, collegiate and professional sports for The Lowell Sun, Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin, Allentown Morning Call and The Salt Lake Tribune. He’s won awards for sports features and sports columns.