Royals' pen falters in loss

6/5/2014

BY ANDY MCCULLOUGH

BY ANDY MCCULLOUGH

The Kansas City Star

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Inside his office, more than six hours before a 5-2 loss to the Cardinals in 11 innings, Royals manager Ned Yost pondered his available relievers. He whistled through his teeth as he considered their recent usage. He ticked off three names before he settled on Kelvin Herrera, the pitcher who wore the loss on Wednesday.

"I've got Herrera," Yost said, "who's thrown a lot here lately."

Herrera had received a night off on Tuesday. He did not look refreshed in his latest appearance. He served up an RBI double to Matt Carpenter, and replacement reliever Tim Collins yielded a two-run double to Allen Craig as the Royals missed out on a chance for a stirring victory.

During the first week of the Dale Sveum era, this sun-kissed stretch of offensive optimism, one hurdle remained uncleared. The Royals had yet to trump an ace. They required all nine innings on Wednesday, but they managed to bloody St. Louis stalwart Adam Wainwright with a quirky comeback.

The rally started in an unlikely place, the feeble flail of first baseman Eric Hosmer. He swung over a curveball from Wainwright, who placed enough spin on the pitch to slip it between the crouch of catcher Yadier Molina. Hosmer reached first on a wild pitch, and the Royals breathed in deep.

The rest was more conventional: Billy Butler singled to chase Wainwright for closer Trevor Rosenthal. Alex Gordon walked to load the bases and executed a hard slide into second base to prevent the Cardinals from turning a double play during the next at-bat. One run scored on that grounder by Salvador Perez. The tying RBI belonged to Lorenzo Cain, who muscled a 96-mph fastball from Rosenthal into right.

Like Mark Buehrle on Sunday, Wainwright needs no introduction. The Royals failed to dent him during his first eight innings. Wainwright allowed few opportunities; those that arose he snuffed out in expedient fashion.

Until the ninth, Wainwright overshadowed eight innings of two-run baseball from Jason Vargas. He saved the Royals' bullpen from over-use.

The Royals returned home refreshed after a successful road trip, with four wins in six games reducing the shock of a preceding sweep by the Astros. Manager Ned Yost sensed an elevated level of confidence in his hitters under the instruction of new hitting coach Dale Sveum. Still, there was little time to gloat, not with St. Louis' two most formidable starters lined up.

"It doesn't get any easier," Yost said. "We've got Wainwright and (Michael) Wacha. You just go play the game. You don't sit back and say 'We're rolling now.'"

As the series shifted westward on Wednesday evening, the blue seats at the park were packed with pockets of red. Cardinals fans roared when Matt Carpenter led off the game with a single. The noise rose when Vargas mishandled a bunt to load the bases a few batters later.

Vargas evaded trouble in that frame. He was less fortunate in the second. Two days shy of his 37th birthday, Mark Ellis roped a single and stole second base. He sprinted home when Matt Carpenter singled up the middle and backup outfielder Jarrod Dyson overran the ball.

Wainwright appeared hell-bent on making that lone tally stand up. He granted a leadoff walk to Alex Gordon in the second. Gordon advanced to third on a pair of groundouts, but Wainwright was never perturbed. He induced a weak lineuout from Mike Moustakas for the third out.

The Royals achieved something a benchmark in the third. Omar Infante skied a pop-up to center field. It was the first time the team drove a ball out of the infield. It would not occur very often thereafter.

After Gordon's walk, Wainwright mowed down the next 12 hitters. He collected grounders with his cutter. His hellacious curveball is one of baseball's most precious gifts, and he utilized it as he accumulated strikeouts.

His pursuit of a historical memento derailed in the sixth. Alcides Escobar lined a lazy curve, a rarity, into right. Wainwright was unbowed. With Escobar at third, he dissected Hosmer.

Wainwright overwhelmed Hosmer with inside pitching. Hosmer fouled off four consecutive 1-2 pitches before flailing at a cutter near his ankles. Wainwright looked surgical, but the Royals only felt pain.

Their deficit doubled in the seventh. Rookie Oscar Taveras smacked a leadoff double to right, and scored after two productive grounders.

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