ST. LOUIS (TNS) — The rogue kitten appeared in center field at just past 9:35 p.m. here on Wednesday, after the Royals had loaded the bases in the sixth inning against the Cardinals at Busch Stadium, but minutes before another night unraveled and a bullpen came apart in an 8-5 loss.
In the moment, a baseball game stood still as reliever Peter Moylan stood atop the mound and Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina dug in at the plate — before stopping to point out the kitten frolicking around center fielder Lorenzo Cain.
For close to two minutes, the action was delayed as a member of the staff at Busch Stadium jogged out toward center field to retrieve the cat, surviving the wrath of its claws along the way. For close to two minutes, Moylan stood ready to make the most important pitches of the game.
The inning had begun with the Royals leading 5-4 and reliever Brandon Maurer taking over for Scott Alexander. The sequence started in earnest, with a single from pinch hitter Greg Garcia and a walk issued to Matt Carpenter.
Royals manager Ned Yost had seen enough from one of his newly-acquired arms from San Diego and Moylan was summoned to put out the fire. He coaxed a line-out from former Royals farmhand Jose Martinez before striking out Cardinals shortstop Paul DeJong on three pitches.
Moments later, Moylan issued an intentional walk to Dexter Fowler to set up a matchup with the right-handed hitting Molina. All season, the Australian right-hander had dominated righties with his confounding submarine stuff. On this night, he needed one more out to preserve a one-run lead.
On the first pitch, he missed with a slider. As he prepared to go back to work, the kitten slipped onto the field and interrupted the at-bat.
Two minutes and one pitch later, Moylan hurled a side-arm fastball toward the middle of the zone. Molina put his barrel on the baseball and cranked a grand slam over the wall in left field.
The swing delivered the Royals (57-56) their third loss in three days against the cross-state Cardinals. When the night was over, Kansas City had fallen out of the second American League wild card spot and remained four games behind first-place Cleveland, which lost against Colorado.
The performance of Maurer and Moylan had wasted a go-ahead, two-run blast from Melky Cabrera in the top of the fifth inning. The Royals had led 3-0 after 1 1/2 innings before falling behind 4-3 in the bottom of the fourth.
Making his third start, Trevor Cahill procured just seven outs and issued five walks before departing. He surrendered three runs in 2 1/3 innings, the outing taxing the bullpen for another night.
In three appearances since being acquired from the Padres, along with Maurer and reliever Ryan Buchter, Cahill has failed to survive five innings. In 11 innings, he has allowed 10 earned runs while walking nine.
The Royals, of course, traded for Cahill believing that even a major-league-average starter would be an upgrade over what they had been trotting out at the No. 5 starter spot. In 11 starts for the Padres, Cahill had posted a 3.69 ERA and struck out 10.6 batters per nine innings. But thus far, the gambit has not paid off.
On Wednesday afternoon, the Royals settled inside the visitors clubhouse here at Busch Stadium and prepped for the second leg of a four-game home-and-home series against the Cardinals.
The clubhouse remained quiet at just past 4:15 as a collection of players inspected their phones. Royals manager Ned Yost sank into a chair inside his office, donning a T-shirt dedicated to reliever Peter Moylan’s “Sledge-iatto” espresso drink.
For more than two months, Yost had grabbed the wheel of the bus and held on as it cruised for miles and skidded for others. Fir came six victories in seven games as the calendar flipped from June to July. Then came a 1-7 stretch sandwiched around the All-Star break. Then a nine-game winning streak in late July, and another 3-8 stretch entering Wednesday night in St. Louis.
As Yost sat, his mind drifted to the streaks and to the standings in the American League Central. At the least, he looked at the final months of the season in simple term.
“The thing you always fall back on is we have a month and a half to the season and we’ve got to win four more games than Cleveland.
“That’s basically what we’ve got to do.”
Nearly three hours later, Whit Merrifield matched his career high with four hits. Cabrera came through with a clutch homer. And the Royals lost again.
For now, they are streaking in the wrong direction. There are 49 games left.