Royals left-hander Danny Duffy watched warily as manager Ned Yost ambled out of the Royals dugout on Thursday afternoon.
It was the third inning of a game the Royals would lose 7-5 to the Red Sox at Kauffman Stadium, and about 20 minutes after Boston second baseman Eduardo Nuñez’s second-inning liner connected with the inside of Duffy’s right knee. Duffy fell to the ground and limped off the diamond after the Royals recorded the out.
Duffy gamely returned for the third inning but his first pitch would portend trouble ahead. Duffy unleashed a 90 mph fastball that hit Boston center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. in the helmet. Mookie Betts followed with a 398-foot homer that tied the game 2-2. Although Duffy recorded a strikeout after allowing a single, the Red Sox scored two more runs on a double and another single, prompting Yost to take the ball from Duffy.
The Red Sox held the lead for the rest of the game, and sent the Royals (19-43) to their sixth straight defeat. They have lost nine of their last 10 games and 12 of 14.
“My warmup pitches felt like the pitches prior (to the ball off the knee),” said Duffy, who said his knee was sore but fine. “But then the intensity ramps up. If I’m not finishing, it’s not going to work out. I’ve got to make adjustment and those adjustments were not made.
“It’s a bummer the way it went down today, I really wanted to get this team a win today, I really wanted to start us off with a win going into the next series with a win and feeling good about ourselves. There’s not a whole lot to celebrate right now.”
While Duffy was still touching 94 mph with his fastball in the third, he said his command was “brutal” and that’s why Yost called on Brian Flynn to relieve. Duffy, 3-3, allowed four runs on four hits with two walks and a pair of strikeouts in 2 1/3 innings, the shortest of his eight starts this season.
Although the Royals staked Duffy to a two-run lead in the second inning on the third homer in six games by third baseman Cheslor Cuthbert and an RBI double by center fielder Billy Hamilton, they missed an opportunity on three golden chances to push more runs across.
The Royals’ bottom four hitters had eight hits in 16 at-bats with a walk, two doubles and a home run. However, the top two hitters were 1 of 10.
“The bottom did a great job,” Yost said. “I think they got, like, eight of our hits down there. They really did a good job of setting the table. ... When you get in those situations where the bottom of the order is setting the table for the top of the order, you’re generally going to be in a pretty good position to score some runs. We just couldn’t do it today.”
After Hamilton’s double in the second inning, Colten Brewer replaced starter Ryan Weber and fanned Whit Merrifield and got Adalberto Mondesi to fly out, stranding two runners in scoring position.
In the fourth inning, Cuthbert singled and took second on Nicky Lopez’s grounder. Cam Gallagher walked and Hamilton’s excuse-me infield single loaded the bases. However, Marcus Walden relieved and Merrifield flied to right and Mondesi struck out. The Royals are hitless in their last 13 at-bats with the bases loaded.
Jorge Soler crushed his 16th homer of the season in the fifth to make it 4-3, and the Royals had runners on second and third with two outs an inning later, but Mondesi struck out for the third time.
The Red Sox (33-29) didn’t waste their chance in the seventh and put the game away.
Scott Barlow issued a one-out walk to Xander Bogaerts, who stole second as Sam Travis struck out. Rafael Devers was intentionally walked and both runners scored when Christian Vázquez’s sinking liner fooled a diving Hamilton for a triple. Vázquez trotted home on a wild pitch to give Boston a 7-3 lead.
Alex Gordon lined a home run, his 10th, to right to get a run back in the seventh. But Lopez opened the eighth with a double and stole third and was left there as Gallagher flied to short right, Hamilton popped out and Merrifield struck out.
In the ninth, Gordon singled with one out and scored on Soler’s double, but Ryan O’Hearn and Cuthbert struck out as Boston finished the sweep. The Royals left 10 runners on base and were 2 of 12 with runners on base.
“It’s part of the season,” Merrifield said of the struggles to get the big hit. “You go through ups and downs all season. Just have to grind away.”