Kansas City Royals

A strange triple — and unlikely bullpen meltdown — part of Royals’ 8-3 loss to Boston

The ball hit the top of the outfield fence, then bounced up there ... and bounced again.

Royals outfielder Whit Merrifield turned toward the infield, believing he’d just seen a home run. A Royals fan beyond the wall ducked under a cordon, convinced he was about to get a souvenir baseball.

J.D. Martinez’s deep shot fooled both of them. After the ball’s unlikely trajectory and belly flop on the top of a cushioned outfield wall, it trickled back onto the warning track, with Martinez having to settle for a sixth-inning RBI triple.

It was the weirdest single occurrence that took place during the Royals’ 8-3 loss to the Boston Red Sox on Tuesday night.

Another set of circumstances, though, had to seem just as strange for manager Ned Yost as he watched an early lead slip away.

For a night, two of the Royals’ best relievers — and if we’re honest, two of the team’s top pitchers overall — did not resemble themselves while coughing up late runs.

It started with Scott Barlow, who entered tied for second among all AL relievers in strikeouts. He entered to a fireman role in the sixth, looking to preserve a two-run lead with one on and one out.

He couldn’t avoid hard contact. That started with Martinez’s hard blast to right — the one that hit off the top of the wall three times — before a walk, sac fly and Brock Holt double gave the Red Sox a 3-2 lead.

“Body feels good. I feel like I’m putting in a good amount of work and making sure I’m ready for the next day,” Barlow said. “So when nights like this happen, it’s obviously frustrating.”

Afterward, Barlow promised to study film to diagnose where his outing went wrong. One potential adjustment, he said, could be with his pitch mix, as he hypothesized he might be falling into predictable patterns.

“He had really good stuff today. His fastball was up to 97 miles an hour,” Yost said. “Just a couple flat sliders that got him in trouble.”

Meanwhile, Jake Diekman — the Royals’ pitcher of the month for May — later quashed any hopes of a comeback in the eighth with his worst outing of the season. Martinez and Xander Bogaerts started a rally with singles, then pinch-hitter Eduardo Nunez — with just one home run in 101 plate appearances this season — blasted a 1-2 pitch over the wall in left center for a three-run shot.

“I just don’t think (Jake) got it in quite enough,” Yost said.

The Royals’ early offense came in the second.

Alex Gordon led off with a double, and one batter later, Cheslor Cuthbert turned on a low inside cut fastball, driving it to the visitor’s bullpen in left for a two-run homer and a 2-0 advantage.

KC starter Glenn Sparkman — making his third start of the season — danced around trouble to keep the Royals in it. Boston had five different at-bats result in 100 mph exit velocities in Sparkman’s 5 1/3 innings, but only one of those turned into hits, as Kelvin Gutierrez and Adalberto Mondesi both contributed diving plays on the infield.

Sparkman allowed a single run and three hits with one walk and two strikeouts.

“Fastball command was there,” Sparkman said, “and I really started finding my curveball tonight.”

The lead wouldn’t stand, though, after the Yost turned to his bullpen in the sixth.

“We decided to bring in one of our most productive relievers to this point in Barlow,” Yost said. “It just wasn’t his night.”

With the loss, the Royals (19-41) have lost four straight and also seven of their last eight.

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Jesse Newell — he’s won an EPPY for best sports blog and previously has been named top beat writer in his circulation by AP’s Sports Editors — has covered KU sports since 2008. His interest in sports analytics comes from his math teacher father, who handed out rulers to Trick-or-Treaters each year.