Crushing Bobby Witt Jr. error, sudden rough pitching doom KC Royals

David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Tuesday began with good news for the KC Royals. Lessening the fears of Royals fans everywhere, manager Matt Quatraro disclosed that center fielder Kyle Isbel, injured twice recently, would be available if needed during the evening's contest with Cleveland.

As it turned out, Isbel remained on the bench, his name not called by Quatraro. But he couldn't have liked what he saw from the dugout — a disaster, pure and simple, an almost certain big win suddenly and improbably squandered.

To appreciate the gravity of KC's 8-5 loss, consider that the Royals, who began the evening just four games behind American League Central rival and frontrunner Cleveland, had top AL starter Seth Lugo, 9-1 with a 1.72 ERA when the game began, pitching flawlessly with a 5-0 lead his teammates had staked him before the Guardians batted in the fourth.

Not surprisingly, Bobby Witt Jr. figured prominently in those runs — in fact, he accounted for four of them with a pair of two-run homers off Cleveland starter Triston McKenzie.

Unfortunately, those weren't the only major roles Witt and Lugo played.

How the KC Royals gave this game away

Simply put, Kansas City blew this one, and with it the chance to move within three games of the Guardians with two of this three-contest series left to play. And the two Royals most unlikely to contribute significantly to the loss, Lugo and Witt, were at the center of the mess.

Just moments after the Royals made it 5-0, Lugo ran into trouble. After throwing three perfect innings, he gave up a leadoff double to Steven Kwan, an RBI single to José Ramírez, and a two-run homer to Josh Naylor; suddenly, the comfortable 5-0 lead became an uncomfortable 5-3 margin.

Things worsened for Lugo and the Royals after he held Cleveland scoreless in the fifth and sixth. After leadoff Guardian Will Brennan singled, Tyler Freeman homered to tie the game; Sam Long immediately relieved Lugo and, after securing two outs but putting two runners on, gave way to Ángel Zerpa, who walked Naylor to load the bases.

That's when Witt, so good and valuable earlier, literally threw this contest away. After fielding David Fry's grounder, he sped to second trying unsuccessfully to force Naylor, then threw wide of first. All three runners scored. The Royals had nothing for Cleveland in the eighth and ninth.

How improbable was this defeat? Quite. Lugo surrendered five runs for the first time this season, and only once had he given up four. Witt typically doesn't make errors, and the fact he tried for the out at second instead of gunning down Fry at first made his throwing miscue feel worse.

Witt and Lugo, the Royals' Player and Pitcher of the Month for May, typically account for wins, not losses. But on this night, things were different.

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