Hammel, Royals squander early lead and lose to Red Sox 10-6

An early lead against the best team in baseball went for naught as the Royals lost 10-6 to the Boston Red Sox on Monday night.

The Royals’ evening at Fenway Park began with promise. They took advantage of Red Sox starting pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez’s erraticism in the first inning, drawing a pair of bases-loaded walks and forcing his pitch count up to 35 in the frame.

But Alex Gordon grounded into an inning-ending double play before they could exact further damage.

On a night that featured Xander Bogaerts hitting the Red Sox’s sixth grand slam of the season and Royals starting pitcher Jason Hammel surrendering eight earned runs in 4 2/3 innings, the double play was hardly the most egregious moment of the Royals’ 21st loss.

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But it was a near-perfect microcosm of the Royals’ season: Now 28 games in, the Royals are one of the worst teams in baseball when it comes to hitting with the bases-loaded. When Jon Jay hit a sharp grounder to Boston second baseman Eduardo Nunez in the first inning and was awarded an infield hit, he gave the Royals just their fifth hit in 28 at-bats with the bases loaded. Their .178 batting average in such situations ranks in the bottom 10 in the majors.

Three of those hits have come in the last six games.

“We’ve been scoring runs (in those situations),” manager Ned Yost said. “I was pleased with three runs. We had a situation yesterday, bases loaded, nobody out and we didn’t get any in. We got bases loaded, nobody out, we got three in. I think we’re making headway.”

It wasn’t enough. The Royals held onto their lead for a fleeting two innings. Hammel even shook off Mitch Moreland’s leadoff home run in the second and retired the next five batters he faced to retain a 3-1 advantage.

But the Red Sox unraveled Hammel in the third inning. With two outs, they strung together a pair of hits and back-to-back walks. Then Bogaerts drove the eighth pitch of his at-bat over the Green Monster in left field for a grand slam that gave the Red Sox a 6-3 lead.

One theme emerged, Hammel said: An inability to get the Red Sox to swing at his slider. He entered the game inducing 44.5 percent swings with his breaking pitch, according to Brooks Baseball, but he struggled to fool the Red Sox in the third inning.

The outing was a departure from Hammel’s recent starts. He entered the game with a 3.38 ERA, the second-lowest in the starting rotation. After a 2017 campaign in which he struggled to keep fly-balls in the ballpark, he’d only allowed one home run in his first 32 innings.

The Red Sox, who rank second in baseball with a .451 slugging percentage, hit two homers off Hammel.

“I don’t know whether I was doing something, maybe tipping or whatnot,” Hammel said. “But usually I get more swings than in that inning. They did a good job, put up some really good at-bats and stretched me out. I don’t know, I probably threw 40 pitches that inning. That was a tough one.”

The Royals attempted a rally in the fourth inning, pulling within a run of a 6-6 tie. Alcides Escobar drove home Gordon on a double and Escobar immediately scored on Whit Merrifield’s two-base hit.

Escobar later scored in the ninth inning when Merrifield knocked his second double of the night into center field. The pair had three hits each and accounted for two-thirds of the Royals’ offense, which mustered nine hits.

But their efforts were dwarfed by a Red Sox offense that countered with four more runs. Boston scored twice against reliever Scott Barlow, who made his major-league debut in the sixth inning. The 6-foot-3 right-hander, who grew up in Connecticut, faced 15 batters in three innings, allowing five hits along the way.

“Did a nice job, coming in here in a tough place to make your major-league debut,” Yost said. “They’ve got a good offense over there, so he did a nice job.”

Meanwhile, the Boston bullpen held the Royals to four hits after Rodriguez departed at the end of the fourth inning.

The Royals stranded seven men on base and dropped to 7-21, keeping pace with the Cincinnati Reds (7-22) in baseball‘s cellar.