After the Royals had taken the lead with a three-run sixth inning, Singer took the mound for the seventh at 70 pitches having allowed two runs on the day -- one by way of a leadoff walk, a wild pitch and a two-out single, and one coming on a solo homer. Singer was cruising, and he got two quick outs in the seventh before Chad Pinder singled into left field.
But Cristian Pache then hit a ball right back at Singer, whose deflection created enough spin on the ball that Whit Merrifield couldn’t get to it in time to make a play.
Moments later, a 74-mph bloop single into center field from Nick Allen gave the A’s a lead they wouldn’t relinquish in the series finale.
“I didn’t really see it,” Singer said of Pache's hard-struck comebacker. “I just stuck my glove up there, and it hit me. I didn’t see it come back at me. Definitely should have made that play, but it’s a tough one for me.”
If Singer, who made six errors last season (good for a .700 fielding percentage) had let the ball go past him, Merrifield would have made the play in the shift. At worst, the game would have been tied after the seventh; at best, the Royals would have still had the lead. But Singer’s deflection -- which was clearly a natural reaction to a comebacker -- created “weird spin” on the ball, Merrifield said, and the second baseman couldn’t get to it in time to make a play, putting runners on second and third for Allen.
“I usually check where the shift is, because I’ve gotten beat by that before, where I hit one that’s coming up the middle and Whit or somebody else is standing there,” Singer said. “But I didn’t really see this one. I definitely should have let it go through, but I think I was protecting myself, honestly. You feel kind of stupid when it happens, but it was just reaction, panic, when it comes back toward me.”
The inning essentially summed up Singer’s outing: The right-hander flashed good and efficient stuff through 8 1/3 innings, but when he made mistakes, the A’s capitalized.
“Definitely frustrating,” Singer said. “I thought that was a good pitch [to Allen], it was definitely where I wanted to throw it. But he blooped it out to center, and that was the big turning point in the game. Kind of the one that stung the most.”
It’s hard to imagine Singer even finishing the inning once baserunners reached in the seventh if the Royals' bullpen had been fresh with high-leverage arms. But Singer pitching into the ninth was an indicator of where the Royals' bullpen is after losing Josh Staumont (neck strain) to the injured list Sunday morning. The Royals will likely target Taylor Clarke, Dylan Coleman or Jose Cuas for that setup-man role now, but Clarke pitched 1 1/3 innings on Saturday, while Coleman pitched both Friday and Saturday.
“We’ve got some guys that are taking that step, feel like they’ve got the stuff to be able to help us out in higher leverage,” Royals manager Mike Matheny said pregame. “But we keep running through all of them, you just go, ‘Next man up.’”
That Singer went as deep as he did is notable, and he cruised through the A’s lineup for most of Sunday. With Singer’s sinker dancing across the zone for 12 called strikes and three swings-and-misses, Oakland mustered very little against the pitch. The movement was evidenced from the first batter of the game, when Singer's 3-2 sinker to Tony Kemp landed just on the inside part of the zone for a called strike, much to the lefty’s irritation.
“The reaction Kemp had, you knew that probably started at him and worked back to the plate and to the corner,” Matheny said. “The sinker was really the key for the day. When he gets that right, nobody wants to face him.”
Singer has been working on that front-hip sinker lately, and Sunday was the first start he felt good about that location.
“I think extension’s a huge thing,” Singer said. “Getting down on the mound, getting my hand out in front of me. The tilt of it helped a lot. We’ve been working on getting it down in the zone and getting extended out there, and you can see the ball run a lot more and have a lot more movement.”
For the second game in a row, the Royals felt like they let one slip away against the A’s. On Sunday, they had the winning run at the plate with one out but couldn’t come through. And this loss cost Kansas City its chance at a third consecutive series win.
“It’s a couple games here in a row where we’ve had opportunities,” Matheny said. “Those games, we need to walk away with. And we didn’t.”