KANSAS CITY — The Royals didn’t get many scoring chances against Twins pitchers on Sunday afternoon at Kauffman Stadium, and when they did, the momentum was squelched almost as quickly as it began.
It resulted in a 2-1 loss to split the four-game series and a 4-2 homestand for the Royals, who won the first two in this set. Besides Friday’s 14-5 blowout win, the other three games in this series were all decided by one-run, and in the Royals’ two losses, they had the potential tying run on base in the bottom of the ninth.
In the finale, Kansas City had the right part of the order up: Whit Merrifield doubled to lead off the ninth, but he was stranded at second as Carlos Santana struck out and Andrew Benintendi flied out to left field. Salvador Perez was intentionally walked to put two on, but Kelvin Gutierrez grounded into a forceout to end the game.
The Royals are now 9-9 in one-run games this season after winning their first six such decisions.
“We wanted to see that part of the order make a difference in that game, and that’s worked well for us in the past,” manager Mike Matheny said. “They’ve got their best out there, head to head, see who comes out on top. We just fell a little short.
“The fact that our guys are continuing to stay in games no matter what kind of offensive production we’re getting is always going to be impressive. But the bottom line is, we just lost two games that were really right there, really close for us to take.”
It took two innings for Royals hitters to figure out Twins starter Bailey Ober’s fastball, which averaged 91-93 mph but played up because of his 6-foot-9 frame. Jarrod Dyson led off the third inning with a single over second baseman Nick Gordon’s head, followed by a single from Cam Gallagher to put two runners on with no outs.
Then, Nicky Lopez tried to lay down a bunt that typically works for him. Instead, he popped it up to first baseman Miguel Sanó, who turned quickly to nab Dyson at second base. Gallagher was running hard to second and never seemed to see the popup or the throw to second, so Simmons threw Gallagher out at first base to complete a rare 3-6-4 triple play.
“[Ober] has a little bit of ride to his fastball, and I just got a little bit underneath it and popped it up,” Lopez said. “Dyson and Cam must have thought it was going to drop, trying to get to the next base, which every baserunner should try to do if you can get there. But I got a little bit underneath it.”
In one sequence, the Royals’ momentum was over and so was the inning. It was the first triple play turned on Kansas City since April 20, 2012, against Toronto, when Eric Hosmer lined into a 3-6 triple play.
“Triple plays normally don’t fare too well. Especially in close games,” Matheny said. “Right idea, it’s just unfortunate we didn’t have the right execution.”
The Royals’ next chance came in the fourth, and Andrew Benintendi came through with a single up the middle that scored Whit Merrifield to tie the game. But despite having two on base, they couldn’t add on after Edward Olivares’ strikeout. Ober threw four consecutive sliders to Olivares, who was recalled from Triple-A Omaha before the game and went 0-for-3.
“I faced him the first week of the season when I was in Triple-A and he was down in Omaha,” Ober said. “So I kind of was familiar with him and going over the scouting reports, we kind of knew that he was struggling a little bit with offspeed, so we just kind of hammered that and attacked him with that.”
The Twins’ bullpen then retired the next 12 until the ninth inning.
Starter Brady Singer only gave up two runs in 5 2/3 innings — needing 106 pitches to get through his outing — but the way the second run scored was self-inflicting and ended up as the decisive run. After the Royals tied the game, Singer came out for the fifth and loaded the bases on a leadoff walk, infield single and bunt single.
The right-hander got two crucial strikeouts of Alex Kirilloff and Sanó, but Singer yanked a slider down that hit Trevor Larnach on the foot to score a run. Singer limited the damage to just that run with a flyout to center field that ended the frame.
“He almost pitched himself out of that,” Matheny said. “Slider breaking down with the hit batsman is really the only glitch he had when he got his back against the wall.
“It’s unfortunate that was the deciding run.”