After commanding most of the game with a five-run lead, the Reds’ bullpen couldn’t deter the Royals from getting on the board in the late innings in a 7-6 walk-off loss at Kauffman Stadium on Tuesday.
The bullpen had been one of the biggest bright spots in the Reds’ five-game win streak entering the contest. Over the course of 16 innings in that stretch, Cincinnati relievers had not allowed an earned run, as they recorded 16 strikeouts while yielding three walks and eight hits.
Their dominance on the mound was halted in the club’s first loss of July.
Reds right-hander Brad Brach was tasked with closing the game with Cincinnati leading by three runs in the ninth, after the Royals chipped away at the lead with a two-run eighth inning. Brach, who finished the eighth, started the ninth with two consecutive five-pitch at-bats, one of which ended in a walk and the other with a hit-by-pitch.
The inning unravelled even more when Eugenio Suárez committed a fielding error on Michael A. Taylor’s grounder that scored the inning’s first run. The grounder, with an exit velocity of 102.7 mph, scorched its way underneath Suárez’s glove and through his legs into left field with Aristides Aquino shaded in left-center.
“That's a very hard play. They don't call it the hot corner for nothing,” shortstop Kyle Farmer said. “It's a tough play, that ball was hit really hard. It took kind of a weird hop on him. [Eugenio's] had some pretty weird, funky hops in the past couple [of] games hit his way at third. But like I said, they took advantage of some mistakes that we made and that's what teams will do.”
With the tying run 180 feet away without a single out recorded, manager David Bell made a call to the bullpen for right-hander Heath Hembree. He recorded a swinging strikeout against Jorge Soler, then surrendered a costly hit in the next at-bat.
Kansas City’s Nicky Lopez hit a blooper to shallow left field that fell in and scored the runner from third. But in an attempt to nab the tying run, Aquino misfired the throw to home plate and airmailed it over a leaping Tyler Stephenson. The throwing error resulted in the Royals tying the game at 6.
“It was hard and just didn't really roll our way that inning,” Farmer said. “They just found holes. Credit to them for taking advantage of the opportunity that was given to them, but we have to come out tomorrow and win the series.”
Hembree continued on the mound for one more at-bat, which ended in a walk to Whit Merrifield; left-hander Amir Garrett entered next in an attempt to hold off the Royals and send the game into extras.
Garrett successfully struck out Andrew Benintendi on seven pitches. But three pitches to Salvador Perez in the next at-bat ended any comeback chances for the Reds. A line drive to deep left soared over Aquino's head for the walk-off RBI single.
Though Carlos Santana, who was 1-for-3, awaited on deck, Cincinnati decided to pitch to Perez, who is tied for seventh in the American League with 20 home runs.
“It's a tough call,” Bell said of the matchup between Perez and Garrett. “He's a great hitter, but Santana, right-handed with the bases loaded, I didn't see the advantage there, and it's a tough spot. Either way, I just wanted Amir to have the room of having the empty base, and I thought that would give him a little more room to work and make pitches.”
Six unanswered runs snapped Cincinnati’s win streak, as Hembree was saddled with the loss and a blown save. The Reds will face the Royals in the rubber match Wednesday, before jetting off to Milwaukee for a pivotal four-game intradivision series.
“[The bullpen has] been so good, it could have gone different,” Bell said. “I think with a five-run lead there, the way they've been pitching, you expect to get it done. And really, they all threw the ball well. A couple plays or breaks go the other way and it could be a totally different outcome.”