KANSAS CITY — The comeback the Royals offense staged on Wednesday night wasn’t near enough to counter a collapse from the pitching staff — but it sure came close.
Kansas City scored five runs in the final three innings to close a seven-run deficit into a two-run gap, but the offense ran out of outs in a 12-10 loss to the A’s at Kauffman Stadium. The Royals lost despite scoring 10 runs or more for just the 20th time in franchise history and the first time since 2013, snapping a 63-game win streak when scoring at least 10 runs.
They had a chance to keep that streak alive with the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the ninth and the No. 3 hitter coming to the plate against A’s lefty Andrew Chafin.
Typically, that’s Salvador Perez. But Perez and second baseman Whit Merrifield had been taken out of the game in the top of the eighth inning with the Royals trailing by six runs. Instead, Ryan O’Hearn, who had walked against lefty Jake Diekman in the eighth, grounded out to Chafin to end the game.
“Long season. A lot of games. They’ve played a lot,” manager Mike Matheny said about taking his veteran sluggers out of the lineup late in the game. “At that point, when we’re six or so runs down, I believe they’ve earned the right to be able to come off the field, especially with a day game tomorrow.”
On the day he made his 1,000th career start behind the plate and wore No. 21 in honor of Roberto Clemente, Perez hammered his 44th home run of the season — a 413-foot shot to right-center field in the fifth inning that brought him into a tie for second place on the MLB home run leaderboard and four shy of tying the Royals’ single-season home run record (Jorge Soler’s 48 in 2019) with 17 games to play.
He also inched closer to the AL/NL single-season record for home runs by a player who played at least half of his games behind the plate, now just one off the pace of Johnny Bench’s 45 in 1970 (38 of those came at catcher; 30 of Perez’s 44 this season have come at catcher).
Three innings later, O’Hearn drew a walk in his first plate appearance in place of Perez, loading the bases for Andrew Benintendi, whose fifth hit of the night capped a three-run frame that brought the Royals within three of the A’s.
Benintendi was 5-for-5 on Wednesday with five singles, the third five-hit game of his career.
And he was on deck in the ninth if O’Hearn had been able to come through and extend the game.
“At that point, it’s all you can ask for, to give yourself a shot,” Benintendi said. “In those situations, it’s easy to fold, but you’ve got to keep fighting back. We had a shot there at the end.”
The past two nights have showcased the kind of offense the Royals believed they were going to have in 2021, with 20 runs and 31 hits between the two marathon games. Benintendi sprayed hits to all parts of the field. Hunter Dozier displayed three solid swings with a homer on Tuesday and a double and single on Wednesday. Carlos Santana had two hits, while Adalberto Mondesi was on base four times.
“Everybody kind of has an idea of what their role is,” Benintendi said. “When your name is called or you get into a situation, you try to do your best and pass it onto the next guy and pass that baton.”
The problem Wednesday night was that the A’s offense was doing the same thing against a Royals pitching staff that served up 18 hits. It started with seven runs off Carlos Hernández in four-plus innings, a rare slip from the 24-year-old starter in the second half of the season. Hernández entered Wednesday having won five consecutive decisions over his last eight appearances with a 1.68 ERA in that span.
He didn’t have command, nor his best stuff, surrendering seven runs on nine hits, walking four and striking out three.
“There have been a lot of days where all four pitches are right on, and today was not one of those days,” Hernández said. “On these days, I have to go out and compete against myself and get it done.”
After the Royals had cut the A’s lead to one in the fourth inning, Hernández and Tyler Zuber combined to allow three runs in the fifth. Kyle Zimmer allowed four runs (three earned) in the seventh, before Gabe Speier (2/3 innings) and Scott Blewett (two innings) were able to quiet the A’s bats.
“We just got behind the eight ball,” Matheny said. “… You give up as many runs and hits as we gave up, you certainly don’t expect to even be in that game. And we were.”