Friday's blundering loss was a game testing the souls of KC Royals fans

Kansas City dropped a game it shouldn't have.
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"These are the times that try men’s souls." Thomas Paine, who wrote those words in the darkest days of the American Revolution, was demonstrably no fan of the British royals. But if he were a fan of the KC Royals, old Tom would sound that same alarm right now.

The Royals opened their three-city pre-All-Star break road trip in Denver Friday night with a depressingly lackluster performance and 4-2 defeat to the lowly Colorado Rockies. In that loss, they wasted an excellent seven-inning effort by one of their pitching aces, Cole Ragans.  He allowed just five hits and two of the runs — one on a disputed home run — while striking out eight.

But the offense stranded 10 baserunners, three of them in scoring position with less than two outs, against a 31-57 Rockies team that rarely stops anybody. It was only the eighth time this season, or 45 games, played at Coors Field that Colorado has held an opponent to two or fewer runs.

KC Royals loss saps much of early-season goodwill.

The Royals, America’s sweethearts less than a month ago when they rebounded from a 56-106 2023 with a 42-34 record that had them in a solid postseason position, have since gone 6-8 and fallen to third place in the AL Central, and a game and a half out of the final wild-card spot.

Like Paine’s heroes of prior times, they’re only down, not out. Their pre-break schedule includes two games in St. Louis and then three with those same Boston Red Sox they are trying to run down. The problem is that only two teams in all of the majors have fewer wins than the Rockies. Friday’s game felt like a must-win momentum builder, and it didn’t happen.

Chances? There were plenty. Take the fifth inning, in which infielder Maikel Garcia led off with a three-base hit to deep center field. In a 2-2 tie, the Royals sent their three biggest bats, shortstop Bobby Witt Jr., first baseman Vinnie Pasquantino, and catcher Salvador Perez, to bat in search of the go-ahead run. They produced groundout, strikeout, strikeout, and the go-ahead run stood a mere 90 feet away.

In the ninth with his club trailing 4-2, catcher Freddy Fermin grounded a leadoff single up the middle, and infielder Nick Loftin found a hole between short and third. But utilityman Garrett Hampson fanned, outfielder Dairon Blanco popped out and Garcia grounded to second.

End of game.

The Royals' shortfalls overshadowed a wonderful moment for reliever Walter Pennington. The lefty made his big league debut in his hometown stadium, mere hours after joining Kansas City's 26-man roster. Pennington recorded two outs in the eighth inning, including striking out the first batter he faced. If Kansas City cashed in on a promising ninth inning, he would have likely left Coors Field with a win to his name as well.

The evening’s most controversial and confusing moment occurred in the bottom of the third inning when Rockies first baseman Michael Toglia hit what was credited as a home run just over the left field wall. The video review clearly showed a fan reaching over the wall as Blanco leaped to catch it. The fan did make contact with Blanco’s glove as the ball bounced off it and into the stands.

But replay officials declared the review inconclusive and allowed the home run call to stand. Although no more detailed explanation followed, it appeared — given the video evidence — that the only possible avenue of indecision was whether the ball would have escaped Blanco’s grasp and gone into the seats even if the fan had not done what he did.

Per KC beat writer Anne Rogers, manager Matt Quatraro said afterward there was “no chance” the call should have been anything other than fan interference, and described it as “a mistake.”

The Royals’ problem was that in a game they had to win, they made enough mistakes of their own. They included not just all the men left on base but Garcia’s fourth-inning error, setting up the Rockies’ second run. In the sixth, Ragans tossed three wild pitches, which, combined with three base hits, put Kansas City behind 3-2.

If the Royals desire to continue to be factors in the AL race, they have to do better than that against non-quality opponents. Plain and simple. Kansas City captured fans' attention after a big series win over the Cleveland Guardians, but that goodwill may be gone. If the Royals can stop the skid, then they will recognize another Paine passage, knowing that "the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph."

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