BOSTON -- The challenge arrived in the form of a 92-mph fastball. Danny Duffy did not have to throw it. But he opted for valor rather than discretion, and the Royals suffered the consequences in a 2-1 loss to the Red Sox.
In the sixth inning of a tied game on Saturday night, Duffy fell behind Boston slugger Mike Napoli. At 3-1, with none on and one out, Duffy could have placed Napoli on first base with a free pass. Instead he flung a belt-high heater. The baseball disappeared in the glare of the lighting stanchions high above the Green Monster and crashed onto Lansdowne Street.
The home run cracked the deadlock and resolved the night's proceedings. The Royals (48-48) were once again unable to challenge their cellar-residing foes in the latter innings. If this defeat lacked the head scratching and kvetching of the previous night, the end result was the same: A defeat for a baseball team that has experienced too many in recent weeks, and a club with a 10-20 record in one-run games.
The Royals have lost five of seven, fallen back to a .500 record and third place, and effectively decimated all the good will engendered by their performance last month. The offense failed to protect Duffy, who yielded those two runs across 6 2/3 innings. The hitter cobbled together five hits and four walks against Red Sox starter Rubby De La Rosa, from which they generated just one tally.
The night before, Royals manager Ned Yost committed a tactical blunder that cost his club a victory. Yost accepted responsibility for the mistake, exposing left-handed reliever Scott Downs to give up a two-run home run to pinch hitter Jonny Gomes, and the grumbles inside the clubhouse about the decision had faded by the time Saturday's game began.
The Royals struck first. The primary actor in the third-inning sequence was backup outfielder Jarrod Dyson. In his second at-bat of the day, Dyson stung a 2-2 slider from De La Rosa just as the pitch crossed the plate. His hit slipped through the outfield shift and rolled all the way to the center-field wall.
Blessed with remarkable speed, Dyson appeared within reach of an inside-the-park homer. But he heeded the stop sign of third-base coach Mike Jirschele. Omar Infante punched the next pitch into center field, where talented rookie defender Jackie Bradley, Jr. Bradley fired a peg slightly up the line, and Dyson evaded the swipe tag of catcher Christian Vazquez to score.
For the second occasion in two days, an error by shortstop Alcides Escobar cost his club a run. Duffy was laboring in the fourth, after a single by Mike Napoli and a walk by Jonny Gomes. Just back from the disabled list, Shane Victorino ripped a grounder up the middle. The ball was well-struck but playable – it could have generated a double play.
Instead, the baseball shot beneath Escobar's glove and through his legs. Napoli chugged home from second. Duffy managed to settle down and pick up a pair of flyouts to limit the damage.
His teammates, meanwhile, appeared content wasting opportunities. In the top of the fourth, before the Red Sox evened the score, Gomes collided with rookie shortstop Brock Holt, and Mike Moustakas reached second on the error. There he remained, because Nori Aoki struck out.
In the fifth, Gomes and Holt miscommunicated again, this time allowing Infante's bloop to fall for a two-out double. There he remained, because Eric Hosmer struck out.
In the sixth, Alex Gordon rolled a single down the third-base line, and took second with one out on De La Rosa's subsequent wild pitch. There he remained, because Billy Butler grounded out and Aoki did likewise.
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