A Yankee candle flickered on the desk inside the Kansas City Royals clubhouse Sunday morning. A locker room attendant sprayed air freshener around each cubbyhole.
Several hours before a series finale, a pipe neighboring the home clubhouse had burst, and a foul smell overtook the room.
“I cannot possibly in my mind think of anything else that can go wrong for us,” Royals manager Ned Yost quipped with a hint of truth to it.
OK, perhaps a lot of truth to it.
Hours later, the Royals failed to grab their first series win in nearly two months, falling 5-2 to the Chicago White Sox in a rubber game Sunday at Kauffman Stadium.
Jorge Soler hit a ball into orbit. But just like the candle, and just like the air freshener, that effort was overpowered.
Despite winning the opener of a three-game set Friday, the Royals are 0-14-2 in their last 16 series. They struck out 24 times over the final two games of the weekend. They whiffed 10-plus times in five of the six games of the homestand, which continues next week against Detroit.
“What we’re doing right now is we’re striking out a bunch, but they’re not on strikes generally,” Yost said. “They’re on pitches down below the zone. The curveball is giving us a bit of a problem here lately, and we keep swinging at them.”
For the second straight afternoon, a right-hander supplied the Royals with a quality outing on the mound. A day after Brad Keller completed the eighth, Glenn Sparkman lasted 6 2/3 innings, giving up three runs, but just two of them earned.
And it was for naught once more. White Sox starter Reynaldo Lopez, who entered the day with a 6.62 earned run average, limited the Royals to one run on four hits over six innings. He struck out eight. The Royals (20-45) tagged their former closer, Kelvin Herrera, for one run in the ninth before a rally fizzled.
The two teams traded early-inning moonshots — White Sox left fielder Eloy Jimenez sent a 471-foot bomb past the batter’s eye in center field, and Soler plugged a 445-foot shot off the signage above the fountains in left-center field, his 17th of the season.
Soler drilled the first pitch of his second at-bat, the solo home run serving as the only Royals offense until the ninth. Soler has 17 home runs through 266 plate appearances. He hit nine in 257 plate appearances in 2018.
He was outdone.
The Jimenez ball was a line-drive shot traveling 111.6 mph that crept over the batter’s eye. At 471 feet, no ball has been hit further at Kauffman Stadium this season. The longest home run in the major leagues this year is 482 feet off the bats of Texas’ Nomar Mazara and Arizona’s Ketel Marte.
Lopez tarnished Keller’s outing on Saturday and then Sparkman’s on Sunday. Otherwise, each were good. Sparkman allowed only one earned run after the homer in his second start since joining the rotation in place of Jorge Lopez, who was demoted to the bullpen.
In those two starts, Sparkman gave up three runs across 12 innings, an earned run average of 2.25.
“I definitely felt good,” Sparkman said. “The team played well. I just left a couple curveballs up.”