Thanks to what some might deem unluckiness, the Royals’ five-game winning streak and undefeated streak in one-run games came to an end on Tuesday night in Pittsburgh. A tiebreaking bloop single in the seventh put the Royals behind in a 2-1 loss at PNC Park, giving them their first one-run loss of the season.
“It’s part of the game,” catcher Salvador Perez said. “We want to win every game, but that’s impossible. We’re playing pretty good baseball. It was a close game today. We didn’t have a lot of opportunities.”
Starter Jakob Junis recorded nine strikeouts as he held the Pirates to two runs in 6 1/3 innings, but the offense couldn’t get anything going. Nicky Lopez was the only runner to reach scoring position all night; Carlos Santana legged out an infield single to score Lopez for Kansas City’s lone run.
Of the Royals’ eight hard-hit balls, just one fell for a hit — Hunter Dozier’s lineout to second base, which left his bat with a 109.7 mph exit velocity. A ball that left Perez’s bat with an exit velo of 108.5 mph resulted in a forceout.
The hardest-hit ball of the night was Jorge Soler’s 114.7 mph lineout to left field in the sixth inning that had an expected batting average of .910 but not enough elevation to escape left fielder Phillip Evans’ glove.
“You’d like to see a little elevation on a couple of them, and other times, it’s right at them,” manager Mike Matheny said. “So stay with the process. You’re doing things right if you’re able to square up Major League pitching and have that kind of exit velocity. You can’t completely direct where the ball’s going to end up, but it’d be nice to get a couple of those going so we could at least get some momentum offensively.”
On the other hand, Wilmer Difo’s bloop single, which ended up being the game-winner for the Pirates, had a 70.7 mph exit velocity.
“That’s the only thing we can control: Hit the ball hard,” Perez said. “If we could, we would hit it over the fence every time. I wish we could do that. But no, we just need to [concentrate], try to get a good pitch and hit it hard. We don’t know where the ball’s going to be, so if we’re in control of [hitting it hard], we’ll be fine.”
The way the seventh inning unfolded for Junis was also unlucky. The right-hander was cruising at 75 pitches through six frames and had sat down 14 hitters in a row in between the second inning and a two-out single in the sixth, so he went out for the seventh looking to keep the score intact.
Pirates catcher Jacob Stallings singled to lead off the seventh, and two batters later, he was running to second base as Kevin Newman hit a ball through the left side of the infield. Shortstop Lopez was shifted to his left and on his way to cover second when the ball was hit, so he didn’t have time to make the stop, and he slipped trying to snare the ball.
Stallings went to third, and Difo’s single off reliever Scott Barlow to left-center — just out of reach of a sliding Michael A. Taylor — sealed the win for Pittsburgh. Barlow induced a ground-ball double play to end the inning right after the Pirates took the lead.
“Well-executed [play], and they made the most of it,” Matheny said. “And unfortunately, you’re talking about a [ball] that found the exact right spot. Our guys catch that, they’re not going to be able to tag on it, and then Scotty gets a ground ball on the next play.
“It was a shame, because Jake threw so well.”
The Royals have been in enough close games this season to know that fortunes can turn instantly — for either team.
“In this particular instance, it’s frustrating, just because of how that unfolded that last inning,” Junis said. “Made a pitch that could have gotten a double play, but we were just out of position. Then they literally just threw a dart out there off Scotty that landed in no man’s land to throw in that second run. Just a lot of bad luck, it seemed like.”