When the Kansas City Royals battled back in the fifth inning of Friday night's game against the New York Yankees, the energy surrounding the comeback felt different. That level of resilience was something the club hadn't displayed all season, and being able to display it against a quality pitcher and arguably the best overall team in baseball made it that much more impressive. Despite having just a two-run lead, things appeared to have stabilized at Yankee Stadium.
Then, momentum tilted back in the favor of the home team until that tilt became a downright collapse.
In the bottom of the eighth inning, New York struck for a whopping eight runs to take an 11-5 lead that wouldn't end up changing again for the remainder of the outing. A combination of lackluster control on the mound, fielding errors and general mental mistakes contributed to the Royals giving the game away, and they simply didn't stand a chance against one of the most potent lineups in the sport. American League MVP candidate Aaron Judge had six RBIs on the night, which was more than Kansas City had as a team. After the game, manager Mike Matheny's initial thought on the loss was fitting.
"That's a tough one, to say the least," Matheny said.
Matheny went on to praise starting pitcher Kris Bubic, who gave up a pair of home runs and walked two batters but was otherwise rock-solid against New York. The 24-year-old went six innings and gave up just four hits to a club that averages more than eight of them per game this season. He also struck out six batters in the process, giving the Royals the quality start they needed to hang around.
Matheny also tipped his cap to catcher Salvador Perez, who clobbered a three-run home run in his first game back since having surgery to repair a torn UCL in his thumb back on June 24. He used the term "different" to describe his seven-time All-Star, who has accomplished many Iron Man-like feats over the course of his career. Unfortunately for Kansas City, neither Bubic nor Perez was even remotely close to enough to secure the win.
This loss will likely live on in the Royals' memory banks for a while, and the aforementioned fateful eighth inning is why. Closer Scott Barlow, who boasted a 1.93 ERA as recently as July 25, has allowed seven runs in his last full inning of work. Only three of those have been of the earned variety, but they've still led to that ERA ballooning up to 2.45 on the year. Barlow, one of the better relief pitchers in baseball since the beginning of last season and arguably Kansas City's biggest trade piece, couldn't command his pitches and also made a defensive mistake. For the second game in a row, he wasn't his usual self. When asked about Barlow, Matheny reiterated that there's no one he's rather have attempting to take care of business there.
"Those are things that start to turn into big innings when you've got an offense that can start stacking stuff on top of the mistakes," Matheny said. "He made some good pitches, but then he got deep into his pitch count and they started taking better swings. That's the guy we want in that situation [against] that part of the lineup."
Rookie infielder Maikel Garcia, despite collecting a trio of hits on the evening for his first big-league base knocks, mishandled a relatively routine play in that inning. Relief pitcher Jackson Kowar, who has yet to truly get going during his young career as a Royal, was charged with a pair of earned runs stemming from Judge's grand slam. After everything was rolling on all cylinders for the Royals, absolutely nothing was going well for them just a few brief frames later.
As both teams gear up for game three of the series on Saturday afternoon, the Royals will need a win in order to keep their hopes of a split alive. With a Kansas City loss, New York would have a chance to complete the sweep on Sunday. The Royals have been playing much better baseball since their dreadful start to the 2022 campaign but even then, it's clear that they still have a ton of work to do before being ready to compete with the AL's elite.