KANSAS CITY, Mo. Relief flooded through Kauffman Stadium at 9:15 p.m. local time on Friday. The crowd was restless, annoyed by the hapless at-bats of the Royals and the relative surrender issued by their manager before the game. At the very least, in this 6-0 loss to Cleveland, the Royals could avoid the embarrassment of being no-hit.
Until the seventh inning, that scenario appeared possible. But Alex Rios, one of only two starters inserted into the lineup by manager Ned Yost the day after the team clinched the American League Central, managed to smack a single into center field off Indians starter Carlos Carrasco. The crowd greeted him with applause, one of the few times for cheers on Friday.
The Royals have only been no-hit twice in their history, with Nolan Ryan in 1973 and Jon Lester in 2008 doing the honors. Facing a lineup of rookies and backups, Carrasco appeared set to join their number. Despite giving up the one hit, he struck out 15 during a shutout. In the final three innings, he went through a stretch of six straight strikeouts.
With the loss, the Royals (89-64) saw their lead over Toronto for home-field advantage fall to one game. When the season began, Yost explained, he set three regular-season goals: Win the division, win the All-Star Game to secure home-field advantage in the World Series and finish with the American League's best record.
The American League won the Midsummer Classic in July. The Royals outpaced their competitors in the Central. Now they must hold off the Blue Jays. Yost paused that pursuit to rest his starters on Friday.
Only two regulars played, with Rios in right field and Ben Zobrist at second base. Drew Butera handled first base. Francisco Pena caught. Save for Jarrod Dyson and Jonny Gomes, everyone else in the lineup was a rookie: Christian Colon, Cheslor Cuthbert and Paulo Orlando.
"We'll get back after it tomorrow," Yost said before the game. "I'm going to give them a day to kind of relish in it."
He added, "These guys have gone hard. It was a special day yesterday. Let them catch their breath, get refocused now that they've accomplished the main goal that we wanted to accomplish this year."
The atmosphere before the game reflected the achievement. A high-powered vacuum hummed. Clubhouse attendants sprayed air freshener around the room. Empty bottles resided in lockers.
A minute past 7 p.m., the Royals raised a flag to commemorate the title. There was little wind to spread the cloth across the sky, but the fans still greeted its arrival with cheers.
From that point forward, there was little to applaud.
In the game's second at-bat, infielder Jose Ramirez smashed a fastball from Edinson Volquez for a solo shot. In the next inning, Volquez gave up a two-run shot to rookie outfielder Abraham Almonte on a waist-high curveball.
Volquez recovered to complete six innings without giving up another run. The trouble was his teammates could not mount anything against Carrasco. He walked Drew Butera in the third inning. He walked Christian Colon in the sixth. Otherwise, Carrasco blazed through the order twice while only facing one of the minimum.
In the seventh, the game faded out of reach for Kansas City. Franklin Morales yielded a two-run homer to catcher Roberto Perez. He could not complete the frame and needed to be replaced by Danny Duffy, another lefty competing for a spot on the playoff roster.
Duffy picked up two outs to finish the frame. Soon after, Rios recorded a hit. The loss still counted. But at least there was no historic ignominy.
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