KANSAS CITY, Mo. — First the Washington Nationals were very bad, giving up four runs in the first inning.
Then they were very good, recovering from the big early deficit to forge a 4-4 tie in search of their sixth straight road win.
But then they were very bad again, fumbling through a shaky eighth inning Sunday afternoon while giving up two runs and practically handing a 6-4 win to a Kansas City team that hadn’t had a victory in more than a week.
“It’s a tough way to lose a ballgame,” said manager Davey Johnson.
With two out in the eighth of a 4-4 tie and Eric Hosmer on first, first baseman Adam LaRoche fielded a hot grounder off the bat of slow-running Billy Butler. The ball rolled several feet to LaRoche’s right, but pitcher Craig Stammen took a moment to decide whether he should cover the bag. So Butler was safe with an infield hit. Then a few minutes later with the bases loaded, Salvador Perez hit a sharp grounder to shortstop Ian Desmond.
As Hosmer headed home and Butler chugged for third, Desmond bobbled momentarily and then tried for the force out at third. But Butler beat the throw as Hosmer scored the tiebreaking run. David Lough’s RBI single completed the inning.
“(LaRoche) bobbled the ball and then still had time to walk to first,” Johnson said. “We should have got him out.”
Johnson wasn’t sure if Desmond made the right choice going to third, either.
“The ball to Desi, he probably should have gone to second but he probably thought he had the play at third and it kind of caught (third baseman Ryan Zimmerman) off-stride. It’s a tough play for Zim. He probably thought he was going to go second.”
Kelvin Herrera (5-6) pitched 1 1-3 innings of relief for only the Royals’ third victory in 13 games. Stammen (7-6) took the loss and was part of a shaky defense.
Greg Holland pitched the ninth for his 35th save in 37 opportunities, giving up two singles but striking out the side. Stammen went one inning, gave up three hits and two earned runs as the Nationals saw a six-game road winning streak come to an end.
“It hurts but we’re not going to win the rest of our games,” said Dan Haren, who gave up four runs in the first inning but then settled down and did not give up another through seven. “We’re going to lose a few. Offensively, we’re swinging the bats really well. It’s a good time for an off day. We’ll take a day to regroup and then get after the Marlins.”
Butler was not about to say the Royals were due a few good breaks.
“This game never owes you anything. You can’t be looking for breaks,” he said. “You can just play the game hard and hope the ball falls on your side.”
Royals starter Ervin Santana was handed a 4-0 lead after the first inning but gave up three home runs, including Bryce Harper’s two-run shot with two out in the seventh that tied it 4-all.
Santana had a 4-1 lead and two out in the seventh when Denard Span’s third hit of the day went for his third home run of the year.
Ryan Zimmerman followed with a single, bringing a visit to the mound by Royals pitching coach Dave Eiland. Harper then hit Santana’s next pitch over the fence in left-center, bringing Herrera in from the bullpen.
Haren entered the game 4-0 in six career starts in Kauffman Stadium and had never allowed more than two earned runs in K.C.
But that quickly changed.
On Haren’s third pitch, Alex Gordon hit the 11th leadoff home run of his career. After Emilio Bonifacio walked, Hosmer hit an RBI single. Hosmer was out trying to steal, then Moustakas singled and Perez homered for a 4-0 lead against Haren, who had been 4-2 since coming back from the DL on July 8.
Haren was in danger again in the second and was saved by a standout double play started by LaRoche, who dove to his right to grab a line drive off Gordon’s bat. From his knees, LaRoche threw to second base to double off Alcides Escobar.
After that, Haren allowed only two singles while going seven innings. He was charged with four runs and eight hits.
In the Nationals fourth, Desmond homered for the second time in two games. The ball bounced off the facade of the Royals hall of fame behind left field and was estimated at 431 feet.
Span drilled a ball off Santana’s right hip with one out in the third, the ball bounding all the way into foul territory behind third base while Anthony Rendon went from second to third.
But after testing the leg and visiting with the Royals trainer on the mound, Santana stayed in to strike out Zimmerman and retire Harper on a shallow fly.
Santana was charged with four runs and 11 hits in 6 2-3 innings, with seven strikeouts and no walks.
NOTES: Jayson Werth was back in the Nationals lineup at DH after sitting out one game with an infection in his right foot. … Royals had a fifth straight losing season in interleague competition. … The Royals face Tampa Bay on Monday to make up a game that was snowed out in May. … The Nationals finished a 10-game trip to Chicago, Atlanta and Kansas City 6-4.
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