Kris Medlen needed just a few moments to convey his emotions, a few words to summarize a 13-2 loss to the Washington Nationals at Kauffman Stadium.
“Just an overall really crappy feeling,” Medlen said.
The good vibes and the injection of energy had lasted less than a day, dissipating into the afternoon air in a stadium overtaken by the shrieking of schoolchildren. Fifteen hours after the Royals beat the Nationals with three runs in the ninth, they crumbled in a 21-minute top-of-the-first inning, the first, disastrous moments in a decisive rout. The Royals arrived on Wednesday morning with renewed vigor. Medlen and a defensive collapse served up an afternoon buzzkill.
Wednesday was School Day at the K, the annual city-wide baseball field trip, and the more than 15,000 students witnessed an implosion. They saw the Royals’ defense open with three errors in the first inning, including infield gaffes from Mike Moustakas and Omar Infante on the first two batters. They saw the Nationals score six runs while sending nine men to the plate. They saw Medlen, the diminutive right-hander, labor through a grueling and tedious inning that was only partly his doing.
“It just wasn’t Medlen’s day,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “You have them once in a while, and the defense couldn’t help him.”
In some ways, the final outcome felt like one of those forgettable days of a long baseball season. The Royals were facing Washington ace Stephen Strasburg. The defense offered a rare combustion, committing three errors in one inning for the first time since May 8, 2013. The Royals slid back to 14-13 before a day off Thursday and a three-game series in Cleveland that will begin on Friday night. But when the first inning and final score were juxtaposed with Tuesday’s victory, the result was jarring.
On Wednesday, any momentum was blunted by a suspect defense and the dangerous bats of the Nationals. By the end, Medlen allowed nine runs (six earned) in two innings while his ERA soared to 6.85. He departed with nobody out in the third inning, throwing 68 pitches.
“I need to do a better job of containing those things,” Medlen said. “The defense picks up the pitchers all season long, and I just need to do a better job of picking up our guys when things don’t go right.
“Rhythmwise, I felt great out of the windup, and once I went to the stretch, I just felt real quick, and things just got up from there. I couldn’t stop the bleeding that first inning.”
The Royals responded with two runs in the second. But the Nationals put the game out of reach in the third, scoring four runs off Medlen and reliever Danny Duffy. When the inning was over, Washington led 10-2. By the top of the sixth, it was 13-2.
Nationals second baseman Daniel Murphy, who spent last postseason blasting homers for the New York Mets, finished 4 for 5 with a homer and a double while raising his average to .398. Bryce Harper, the reigning National League MVP, crushed a homer off reliever Dillon Gee in the fifth inning.
“Momentum is only as good as your starting pitcher that day,” Yost said, echoing an old baseball maxim. “And our momentum was snuffed out pretty quick.”
By the end of the afternoon, Yost had emptied his bench, using all 13 of his position players, and catcher Salvador Perez was finishing up at first base for the third game of his career. The reason: Eric Hosmer had been ejected for the first time in his career — after arguing vigorously with home-plate umpire C.B. Bucknor.
Hosmer, who went 1 for 3 and kept his average at .333, struck out swinging in the sixth inning. His anger, he said, stemmed from some ball-strike calls. But he was also upset at what he perceived as a loss of focus from Bucknor.
“As a hitter, you’re going to get four at-bats a night, maybe even five,” Hosmer said. “There’s a reason why we get here at 1 p.m. and prepare and watch videos and do what we can to be ready for that guy tonight. It was obviously back-to-back calls I didn’t agree with, but I realize it’s a tough job back there; I realize it’s not easy calling balls and strikes.
“But when something occurred before the inning and he decided to continue on the conversation with the catcher, I just felt like his focus wasn’t in there. As a hitter, as a competitor, you don’t appreciate that.”
As the game dragged on, the only remaining drama concerned the Royals’ bullpen. With a day off on Thursday, Yost elected to use Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis in the final innings. If Yost would have needed a position player to pitch, he said he would have turned to reserve catcher Drew Butera, who was in the starting lineup.
“He does it the right way,” Yost said. “He doesn’t go out there and try to be Sandy Koufax.”
As the bench emptied, outfielder Terrance Gore finished the game in left field and logged the seventh plate appearance of his career. He struck out looking in the ninth inning against reliever Blake Treinen, a native of Osage City.
For the Royals, the day had spiraled out of control in the first inning. Moustakas could not handle an in-between hop from the bat of Washington leadoff man Michael Taylor. Infante flubbed a backhand on a grounder from Anthony Rendon. The third error belonged to right fielder Jarrod Dyson, who misplayed a double from Murphy into a triple.
“Moose, that was a tough play,” Yost said. “That’s an in-between play on Moose. … Omar, he’s had trouble with his backhand here the last week, and the ball just kicked by Dyson.”
When the bludgeoning was finally done, the Royals had lost their third straight series, and the pitching staff had allowed its most hits (16) and runs (13) of the season. Even after Tuesday’s wild finish, the Royals are still searching for consistency entering a seven-game road jaunt to Cleveland and New York. That, of course, might have been the most frustrating trend of all.
“It’s just one of those really, really frustrating days,” Medlen said, “that is now over.”