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Road no respite as Royals’ losing streak hits 12


This news story was published on April 25, 2012.
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By Bob Dutton, McClatchy Newspapers –

CLEVELAND — Nope.

Simply leaving home wasn’t enough Tuesday night for the Kansas City Royals to halt their April nightmare as their skid hit 12 with a 4-3 loss to the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field.

You want reasons?

Start with the growing sinkhole of a punchless attack that scored fewer than four runs for the eighth time in nine games. That pretty much spells misery in the American League. Two late runs didn’t change that.

Then add Jonathan Sanchez’s maddening inability to throw strikes — a problem that turned decisive when he walked the bases loaded in the fifth inning of a tie game.

All three runners scored.

“I was throwing a lot of breaking balls, because I didn’t have my fastball,” Sanchez said. “I had to throw more off-speed pitches.”

Most pitchers find trouble when they can’t command anything but their fastball.

The Royals even had Sanchez shift to throwing exclusively from the stretch in an effort to enable him to better command his fastball. If it helped, it didn’t help much.

“It’s just fastball command,” manager Ned Yost said. “If he can just command his fastball, he’s going to be in great shape.”

That’s one big “just.”

It’s no small irony that Cleveland starter Derek Lowe, 3-1, beat the Royals for the second time in two weeks. He did so by yielding one run in six innings in part because, despite allowing eight hits, he walked only one before handing off a three-run lead.

Recall that the Royals tried to pry away Lowe from Atlanta in the off season but were outbid by the Indians, who agreed to eat about an extra $1 million in salary on Lowe’s existing contract.

It was that inability to get Lowe that led, in no small degree, to the Royals’ decision to acquire Sanchez from San Francisco in early November with minor-league pitcher Ryan Verdugo for outfielder Melky Cabrera.

The Royals made that deal knowing Sanchez was the proverbial box of chocolates: an enigma of inconsistency. And this, Tuesday night, was the wild Sanchie, who opened the first inning by hitting a batter (who eventually scored) and twice walked the bases loaded.

Sanchez, 1-1, escaped a three-walk second inning but paid dearly in the fifth when Shelley Duncan delivered a one-out sacrifice fly before Jack Hannahan gapped a two-run double to right-center.

“That was a good pitch,” Sanchez insisted, “but he put his bat on it and got a double. It wasn’t a hanging pitch. It was the right pitch.”

Maybe so, but the final numbers were grim. He walked seven in 42/3 innings while throwing just 56 of his 115 pitches for strikes.

Tony Sipp worked a one-two-three seventh for Cleveland before Vinnie Pestano and Chris Perez wobbled through the final two innings in closing out Lowe’s victory. Perez got his seventh save.

So here we are. The Royals, at 3-14, have the majors’ worst record and find themselves saddled with a 12-game losing streak that ties for the third — longest in franchise history while still searching for answers.

“There have been a lot of missed opportunities,” Yost said, “but I felt our at-bats tonight were better with runners in scoring position. The way these kids continue to get after it, it’s hard for me to believe that we’ve lost 12 in a row.”

The Royals were four for 13 with runners in scoring position after going zero for 10 in Monday’s 4-1 loss to Toronto and a combined nine for 60 over the previous seven games. Even so, they left 11 runners on base in Tuesday’s loss.

The franchise record for consecutive losses is an appalling 19-game skid in 2005 that featured then-manager Buddy Bell’s memorable line: “Don’t ever say it can’t get worse.” There was a 13-game slide in 2006 and 12-game droughts in 1997 and 2008.

This streak already includes 10 straight losses at home, which ties the 1913 New York Yankees for the longest home skid at the start of a season. The Royals had hoped getting away from Kauffman Stadium might provide a path to firmer footing.

Nope.

Let’s close with this: The Royals did make it interesting in the late innings.

They had the tying run in scoring position in the eighth inning after Mitch Maier’s two-out RBI double against Pestano put runners at second and third. That was Maier’s third hit of the game and his second two-out RBI.

But Pestano gloved Alcides Escobar’s sharp hopper back to the box for the third out.

“When I hit that ball in the eighth,” Escobar said, “I thought, ‘Come on, come on! Oh, no.’ That’s baseball. That happens. It’s happening right now for everybody, and everybody has their head down a little bit.”

The Royals stirred again in the ninth inning against Perez after Jose Mijares wiggled out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the Cleveland eighth. Chris Getz led off with a slicing double to left.

Getz went to third on Alex Gordon’s grounder to first and scored on Billy Butler’s grounder to short. Eric Hosmer followed with a single, but Perez closed out the game by getting Jeff Francoeur to ground into a force at second.

“One hit shy,” Yost said.

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