Kansas City Royals

Justin Upton’s homer off Joakim Soria breaks Royals’ hearts

Justin Upton is congratulated by Tigers third-base coach Dave Clark after his two-run home run in the eighth inning gave Detroit a 6-5 lead they held onto against the Royals on Sunday.
Justin Upton is congratulated by Tigers third-base coach Dave Clark after his two-run home run in the eighth inning gave Detroit a 6-5 lead they held onto against the Royals on Sunday. Kansas City Star

The disaster unfolded in less than six seconds, just enough time for a 94-mph fastball at the knees and a mighty inside-out swing, just enough time to track a soaring baseball, flying through the Kansas City afternoon.

All the frustration from a lost homestand, all the emotion from a weekend of blown leads, all the hope packaged in this wild, late-season charge came to a head in 5.91 seconds.

Detroit’s Justin Upton put a barrel square on the seams of Joakim Soria’s pitch, crushing a two-run, opposite-field homer. When the ball finally landed, bouncing off a walkway, Upton pointed his hand to the sky and Soria shook his head in disbelief.

“I’m happy with the pitch,” Soria said. “If he hit it, I can’t control it.”

In a 6-5 loss at Kauffman Stadium, the Royals had come back from the dead once, and then perished again, absorbing a brutal loss on the final day of a six-game homestand. In the moments after a final ninth-inning opportunity came up short, Kansas City witnessed its fourth agonizing loss in five games.

In the span of six days, the Royals lost two extra-inning games to the Yankees and coughed up two leads to the Tigers, losing two of three in a series with significant playoff implications. At 70-66, the Royals are four games behind Boston and Detroit in the race for the second American League wild card.

In 2014 and 2015 — two years that ended in the World Series — the Royals had not blown a lead after the seventh inning. In three days at Kauffman Stadium, it happened twice.

“It’s definitely one of the tougher homestands we’ve experienced,” Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer said. “It’s just uncharacteristic of our team to blow leads late in the game like we did.”

And yet, the Royals nearly came back again in the ninth. Jarrod Dyson missed a potential walk-off homer by a matter of feet, roping a liner to right off Francisco Rodriguez that landed just right of the foul pole. Kansas City stranded the tying run, Alcides Escobar, at third base after Alex Gordon and Paulo Orlando each hit balls harder than 100 mph. Each grounder found a glove. The Royals packed for Minnesota in a silent clubhouse.

“It’s a matter of inches, and inches didn’t work out in our favor today,” Royals manager Ned Yost said.

There were decisive moments all over Kauffman Stadium. There was a diving stop that Hosmer couldn’t make in the seventh, which led to two more runs off starter Edinson Volquez. There was another ball that squirted by Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera in the seventh, which led to the Royals putting up a four-run burst and taking a 5-4 lead.

In that moment, it appeared the Royals had conjured more Kauffman Stadium magic, and then it disappeared. But to pull at the threads of this loss is to unravel a piece of yarn that stretches back days, the ripple effects beginning on Friday night.

In one sense, Soria, the much maligned reliever, found himself pitching in the eighth inning because close Wade Davis and rookie left-hander Matt Strahm were not available, Yost said.

Davis was not available because he had pitched on Friday and Saturday. On Friday, in his first night back from the disabled list, he had blown a save in the ninth inning, allowing two runs in a 7-6 loss. On Saturday, he was only used because rookie Brooks Pounders allowed a homer and single in the ninth.

Strahm, meanwhile, was deemed unavailable after he warmed up three times Saturday night. The workload stress was comparable to an inning pitched, Yost said, and the Royals have mostly enforced an unofficial rule about using Strahm on back-to-back days.

“Your options there were Pounders, Chris Young or Soria,” Yost said. “Herrera was going to have to close it out. And Soria went through the meat of the order last night. He’s more than capable of doing that.”

Soria began the eighth inning by allowing a single to Miguel Cabrera. He responded by retiring Victor Martinez and J.D. Martinez before Upton dug in. In his career, Upton had faced Soria just three times, striking out all three. On Sunday, Soria fell behind 1-0 before throwing a 94 mph fastball, low and on the inside corner. Upton didn’t miss.

“Sometimes you have to tip your cap to the hitter,” Soria said. “It was a really good pitch that he was able to hit it out of the ballpark, and to center field. That’s tough to do. But he had the strength.”

The sentiment included some truth, of course. But in this moment, after a long and frustrating season, the message was perhaps lost. In 60 appearances this season, Soria has posted a 3.94 ERA and racked up five blown saves. In all, he has been tagged with seven losses, a number that roughly correlates with his list of late-inning blowups. In the moments after his latest, after the six seconds were done, a cascade of boos echoed around Kauffman Stadium.

“Like I said before, this is entertainment for people,” Soria said, standing before his locker. “People come to the stadium to have fun in their lives. If they feel they want to boo, they boo. If they want to cheer, they cheer. We are a show for them. They can do whatever they please.”

So here are the Royals, still on the fringes of the wild-card race, but with little margin for error. On Monday afternoon, they will open a three-game series against the last-place Minnesota Twins before a weekend series against the Chicago White Sox. If there is hope left, it exists because the next 14 games come against teams with losing records. The Royals also have three more games against Detroit and six against first-place Cleveland. With 26 games left, the Royals might need 19 or 20 victories to claim a playoff spot.

So, yes, it was hard to view this homestand as anything more than a colossal missed opportunity.

“We could have very easily been 6-0 this homestand,” Yost said.

That was perhaps true. But even a 4-2 mark would have sufficed. Instead, the Royals are here, with their backs up against the wall — again.

“We just didn’t have much luck on our side,” Hosmer said. “But we just got to keep pushing and see if we can do something.”

Detroit AB

R

H

BI

BB

SO

Avg.

Kinsler 2b

4

0

3

1

1

0

.279

Iglesias ss

5

0

0

0

0

3

.248

Cabrera 1b

5

1

1

0

0

1

.311

V.Martinez dh

4

0

0

0

0

1

.292

J.Martinez rf

4

2

2

1

0

0

.321

Upton lf

4

1

2

3

0

1

.239

Collins cf

4

1

2

0

0

0

.240

McCann c

4

0

1

0

0

1

.221

Romine 3b

4

1

2

1

0

0

.238

Totals 38

6

13

6

1

7

Kansas City AB

R

H

BI

BB

SO

Avg.

Orlando rf

5

0

1

1

0

0

.303

Cuthbert 3b

4

0

0

0

0

0

.288

Hosmer 1b

3

1

0

0

1

3

.271

Morales dh

4

1

2

0

0

0

.252

Perez c

2

1

0

0

2

1

.254

Gore pr

0

0

0

0

0

0

.000

Butera c

0

0

0

0

0

0

.261

Merrifield lf-2b

3

0

1

1

0

0

.271

Escobar ss

4

1

2

1

0

1

.268

Dyson cf

4

1

1

2

0

1

.247

Mondesi 2b

2

0

0

0

0

2

.182

Gordon ph-lf

1

0

0

0

1

0

.223

Totals 32

5

7

5

4

8

Detroit

010

100

220

6

13

0

Kansas City

001

000

400

5

7

0

LOB—Detroit 6, Kansas City 5. 2B—Upton (24), Collins (2), Romine (3), Orlando (17), Escobar (22). 3B—Dyson (6). HR—J.Martinez (20), off Volquez; Upton (20), off Soria; Escobar (5), off Norris. RBIs—Kinsler (72), J.Martinez (56), Upton 3 (64), Romine (13), Orlando (31), Merrifield (18), Escobar (46), Dyson 2 (20). SB—Romine (7), Gore (4). CS—Kinsler (6), Merrifield (2). SF—Merrifield.

Detroit

IP

H

R

ER

BB

SO

ERA

Norris

6

4

3

3

1

7

3.94

Wilson

 2/3

2

2

2

2

0

3.00

Greene W, 3-3

1 1/3

0

0

0

1

1

5.26

Rodriguez S, 38-42

1

1

0

0

0

0

2.68

Kansas City

IP

H

R

ER

BB

SO

ERA

Volquez

6 2/3

7

4

4

1

5

5.02

Moylan

 1/3

1

0

0

0

0

3.57

Soria L, 4-7

1

4

2

2

0

0

3.94

Young

1

1

0

0

0

2

6.04

Norris pitched to 2 batters in the 7th. Inherited runners-scored—Wilson 2-2, Greene 2-0, Moylan 1-1. IBB—off Wilson (Gordon). PB—Perez (4). T—3:19. A—34,616 (37,903).

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