Game of ‘what ifs’ doesn’t go Royals’ way

OAKLAND — Salvador Perez‘s power pushed the Royals back into Friday night’s game, as the veteran catcher launched homers in consecutive at-bats for his third two-homer game of the season, but the A’s wound up with the final say.

Elvis Andrus ripped an RBI single against Scott Barlow, and Matt Chapman slid into home safely — despite a 91.5 mph throw from Jarrod Dyson in right field — to send the Royals to a 4-3 walk-off loss at the Coliseum, splitting the first two games of the four-game set.

What was a 3-0 Royals deficit late in the game turned into a close and wild game that, with the benefit of hindsight, left the Royals wondering “what if” at a few key moments.

What if Andrew Benintendi’s glove had landed firmly on home plate in the eighth inning? The left fielder walked after Perez’s second homer of the night tied the game, and with two outs, Benintendi went from first to home on Hunter Dozier’s single to right-center field. Benintendi hesitated around third base but bolted home and looked to beat the throw … only to have his oven mitt glove hover over the plate as catcher Aramis Garcia applied the tag.

The Royals challenged the out call, and the length of the delay — 1 minute, 51 seconds — detailed how close the play was.

“It was really close,” manager Mike Matheny said. “The cameras were so good, we could actually see afterward that it looked like his hand was in there ahead of the tag, but above the plate. So it was kind of hovering. That’s always a fine line. But it looked like they may have gotten that one right.”

What if Whit Merrifield came through at the plate in the top of the seventh? After Perez’s first homer against A’s lefty Cole Irvin, who retired 17 of the first 19 batters he faced, Kansas City scratched across a second run and then loaded the bases for Merrfield, who got to a 3-1 count before swinging at a ball and looping it right into second baseman Jed Lowrie’s glove for the final out.

The Royals were 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position Friday night, including in the ninth when Dyson pinch-ran for Kelvin Gutierrez and stole second but stayed there as Michael A. Taylor and Hanser Alberto struck out and Merrifield flied out to right field.

“We were down 3-0. That’s a great fight offensively to get back in there,” Matheny said. “Would we want more? Yeah, but it’s a lot to pick up late in the game like we did. Just had to see who capitalized late, and they did. But we were put in a position with a couple big hits, big home runs. Put us in a place to where that’s even an issue.”

What if Barlow, who has been lights-out in the highest of leverage situations for the Royals this year, was able to execute one more curveball or slider to Andrus in the ninth instead of going to a fastball that was left up for Andrus to line into right field?

“[Barlow] has been our rock. So good,” Matheny said. “We’ve got to push him right there. He’s going to give us our best chance. Andrus fouled off some tough pitches. He had a good curveball that I didn’t think he was going to even get a piece of, but got a piece of and stayed alive. Fought off sliders, and then got a fastball that was up.”

The Royals can take solace in their comeback, which was powered by Perez. After starter Brady Singer allowed three runs — all in the fourth inning — over six innings alongside seven strikeouts, Perez finally got a mistake pitch from Irvin and deposited it over the left-center wall.

“It’s baseball,” Perez said. “It’s crazy. We need to compete and compete, and it’s going to come. I hit it pretty good. I tried to do my job, [Irvin] tried to do his. He made a mistake.”

Mistake pitch or not, opposing pitchers are having a hard time quelling Perez right now. It was Perez’s ninth career multi-homer game and third this season, and he’s now hit seven home runs in his last 13 games after hitting just two in his previous 21 contests. After a three-hit night, Perez’s hitting streak sits at five games.

“Perez, man,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “It doesn’t matter where you throw it to him right now. Whether it’s a breaking ball or fastball, strike or ball, he ends up getting a good piece of it.”