KANSAS CITY – For all the drama and ejections and back-and-forth accusations, the A’s would have left Kauffman Stadium this weekend feeling much better had things ended differently on the scoreboard.
They had an opportunity Sunday to take a three-game series from the Royals, only to let a late-game lead slip away in a 4-2 loss before a crowd of 36,755.
Late-inning heartbreak has become a theme for the A’s at Kauffman. They took the field Friday hoping to erase memories of last season’s Wild Card loss here, when they couldn’t hold a four-run lead and were beaten in 12 innings.
On Friday, Kansas City scored twice off reliever Dan Otero in the bottom of the eighth to claim a 6-4 victory. After winning Saturday, the A’s commanded a 2-1 lead in Sunday’s finale only to endure another nightmarish eighth, when the Royals knocked reliever Eric O’Flaherty around during a three-run rally to snatch away control.
“That doesn't feel very good,” manager Bob Melvin said of dropping two out of three. “We had a miserable time at this place last year. But it's unfortunate the way some of the things transpired (this weekend).”
That last comment was in reference to the drama surrounding a series that included bench-clearing incidents in all three games, plus five Royals getting ejected Sunday over the issue of hit batsmen and nearly hit batsmen. But the A’s surely headed to Anaheim on Sunday evening knowing they let opportunities for two more wins slip from their grasp.
With the A’s leading 2-1, O’Flaherty was summoned to relieve starter Scott Kazmir with one out and a runner on second in the eighth. He gave up Lorenzo Cain’s RBI double to left-center that tied it. Cain immediately stole third, and after Eric Hosmer walked, Kendrys Morales pounded a two-run double off the center field wall to put the Royals up 4-2.
“That's our guy to get a groundball. Just didn't do it,” Melvin said of O’Flaherty. “They’ve got some pretty good hitters up there and they all had some pretty good swings off him. Sometimes you have to give the other guys credit. It didn't look like he was hanging much, other than maybe the last pitch to Morales got in a little bit more than he wanted it to.”
The A’s bullpen, operating without injured closer Sean Doolittle right now, has shown some vulnerability in the early going of the season. Oakland’s relievers have allowed seven homers, most in the majors entering Sunday. The long ball didn’t bite them against Kansas City, but the A’s need consistency from O’Flaherty and Otero, two of their most important bullpen pieces.
Kazmir pitched well enough to win, giving up two runs over 7 1/3 innings (one of those came with O’Flaherty in the game). But he was hard on himself afterward for walking Paulo Orlando to start the bottom of the eighth.
“That leadoff walk is something you don’t do, especially in a close game like that,” Kazmir said.
Second baseman Ben Zobrist drove in both of the A’s runs with RBI singles, but left the game in the bottom of the fifth with soreness in his left knee. He banged the knee on the ground earlier in the game on a slide.
Zobrist left the game during a break in play, when Royals base runner Omar Infante also exited after injuring his groin.
“I just didn’t feel like I had the range to stay in the game right there,” Zobrist said. “It just didn’t feel right. I just iced it twice, so it feels stiff. But it’s not swelling up, which is a good sign.”
Zobrist said how the knee feels Monday morning will help determine whether he can play in Monday’s series opener against the Angels.
Starter Jesse Hahn said the blister on his throwing hand was doing better Sunday, a day after he had to leave his start in the sixth inning. Hahn said he wasn’t sure if he would throw his regularly scheduled bullpen session Monday, but feels that he could still make his next start Thursday even if he doesn’t throw a bullpen.