'Cost us the game': Witt's error overshadows two-homer effort

June 5th, 2024

CLEVELAND -- The ground ball up the middle with two outs was exactly what Royals reliever Angel Zerpa had hoped for -- so much so that he clapped his hands as soon as he whipped around and saw charging for the ball.

Then nothing went right.

Witt fielded the ball but wasn’t able to make the out at second, opting at the last second to throw to first base. The ball skipped past Vinnie Pasquantino’s glove into the dugout, leading to three runs and a lead the Guardians wouldn’t relinquish in the Royals’ 8-5 loss Tuesday night at Progressive Field.

“I made a mistake that cost us the game,” Witt said. “Should have just thrown to first and made the play. That’s about it.”

In the Royals’ first shot at facing the team they’re trying to chase down in the American League Central, they blew a five-run lead. And a messy seventh inning from the Royals led to their seventh loss in the last nine games.

Despite the error, the loss was hardly on Witt -- he drove in four of the Royals’ five runs in the game because of his fifth career multihomer game (third this season). Following Hunter Renfroe’s solo shot in the third, Witt added on with a two-run homer into left-center field.

In his next at-bat, he drove a 454-foot, two-run homer into nearly the same spot as the first.

“A lot will be made of Bobby’s play, but we’re not in that spot without Bobby,” manager Matt Quatraro said. “Three hits, two homers, four RBIs. He’s a great player, and that play just didn’t go our way.”

Witt, who has started all 62 of the Royals’ games at shortstop this year, has been one of the AL’s best shortstops this season with five defensive runs saved and 10 Outs Above Average. He’s been as reliable on the infield as he has been at the plate, accumulating a 3.7 fWAR entering Tuesday, tied for third-best in baseball.

When David Fry hit a quick hopper up the middle off Zerpa with the bases loaded and two outs Tuesday, it seemed like the inning was over. But because of how far back Pasquantino was playing from first base, Guardians’ slugger Josh Naylor had a huge lead off first base and was running on contact.

He beat Witt to second base, and when Witt realized he couldn’t get the out there, he rushed the throw to first.

A tie game became a three-run deficit for Kansas City.

“If Naylor doesn’t beat him to second, that’s an easy inning-ending fielder’s choice and we’re probably still playing,” Guardians manager Stephen Vogt said. “... He got a really good secondary and ran hard and beat him to second, caused chaos and a three-run play.”

Witt downplayed Naylor’s lead, saying he should have “made the decision to throw to first” from the beginning.

“You learn from it,” Witt said. “Try not to make those mistakes. You’ve got to do the little things right, and tonight, I didn’t. I just have to move on and learn from it.”

Perfect through three innings, starter Seth Lugo allowed three runs in the fourth, including a two-run homer from Naylor. He navigated out of trouble in the fifth and pitched a 1-2-3 sixth, earning the right to go back out for the seventh at 91 pitches to face the bottom of the Guardians’ order.

“I think no doubt that was the right thing for him to go out there, [and] he’s earned that.” Quatraro said. “He said he felt fine. There’s no reason to think he wasn’t going to be able to handle that.”

Will Brennan opened the seventh by singling on a curveball down in the zone, and Tyler Freeman followed by crushing a game-tying homer on a pitch low and out of the zone to force Lugo from the game. It was just the second time in 13 starts this season that Lugo allowed more than two earned runs.

“That’s right where I wanted it,” Lugo said. “He kind of ran into it. Overall, the whole night was just bad luck.”

Reliever Sam Long got two outs but put two others on, including a walk to José Ramírez. Quatraro went to Zerpa, who walked Naylor to load the bases.

The Royals (36-26) have made it clear they’re after the division this year, and a hot start has made them a contender as summer heats up. But as Tuesday showed, the Guardians, with a five-game lead over the second-place Royals, will not make it easy.

And now it’s on Kansas City to bounce back after another frustrating loss.

“We feel like we played well enough to win tonight,” Renfroe said. “Just made a few key errors in the wrong scenarios. I liked the way we swung the bat tonight, it just didn’t happen for us.”