Royals lose rain-soaked game
By Andy McCullough
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The would-be savior celebrated his 37th birthday nine days ago. Bruce Chen is the eldest member of the Kansas City Royals, and his role lacks significance. He is the long reliever, a pitcher deemed unfit of the five-man starting rotation and a spectator during the high-leverage relief frames handled by his younger teammates.
In Saturday's 6-2 loss to the Los Angeles Angels, Chen demonstrated why he has become marginalized on this roster and why he can still offer some value. He is here to handle emergencies, and one arose after four innings. A healthy storm soaked the diamond, chased Yordano Ventura from the diamond and caused this game to end nearly seven hours after it began.
After a delay that lasted 3 hours and 58 minutes, Chen inherited a two-run deficit. In one afternoon, it was possible for Chen to provide stability in a disjointed game, soak up innings for his fellow relievers and perhaps even collect the elusive 82nd victory in his career, which would tie him with future Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera for the most ever by a Panamanian.
He completed the first two tasks. Chen lasted the final five innings. But a four-run frame in the sixth sunk his team. The Royals (41-39) nabbed a pair of runs off Angels reliever Mike Morin in the bottom of the frame, but the lineup shut down afterward.
The weather thinned an announced crowd of 21,093 into the hundreds. The final five innings thus unfolded before an intimate audience. The setting resembled a mid-March afternoon at the team's complex in Surprise, Ariz. Only the diehards remained.
The offense offered little resistance at the hands of the Los Angeles pitchers. Hector Santiago blanked them for four innings before the storm arrived. The rain prevented Santiago from improving his 0-7 record.
A downpour overtook the stadium in the bottom of the first inning. It was a temporary summer squall, but the umpires could not determine how long it would last. Ventura left the dugout, and watched as the grounds crew unfurled the tarp. He stood amid the sheets of rain during all seven minutes of the delay.
A more debilitating case of bad luck struck in the third. Ventura gave up a two-out double to outfielder Kole Calhoun. Mike Trout chopped a slow roller to third base, and beat backup infielder Danny Valencia's throw to first. Two pitches later, Albert Pujols floated a 99-mph fastball just out of Omar Infante's reach. The ball splashed into the outfield for an RBI single.
The Angels created a more conventional run in the fourth. Howie Kendrick dug out a knee-high curveball and doubled it into the left-field corner. He took third when C.J. Cron singled, and scored when David Freese cracked a single off a lifeless changeup.
The lightning flashed as Danny Valencia came to the plate with two outs in the fourth. Alex Gordon stood on second base, and Valencia had a chance to dent Angels starter Hector Santiago. He fouled off three pitches before flying out to right field. It was an eight-pitch encounter, and the last act of baseball this ballpark would witness for nearly four hours.
At 6:03 p.m., Chen emerged from the Royals dugout. Pitching coach Dave Eiland accompanied him to the bullpen. Chen had not pitched in a big-league game since April 24, when he aggravated a bulging disk in his lower back. Ten days ago he completed a rehab stint with Class AAA Omaha, and idled after rejoining the big-league roster.
Chen carted a 7.45 ERA with him to the mound. The Angels inflated that number in the sixth. After a leadoff single by Erick Aybar and a walk to Kendrick, the duo executed a double steal. Freese roped a two-run single up the middle. On the muddy track, he managed to steal second base.
The theft placed Freese in an ideal position for what followed. Calhoun dumped a slider into left. Freese hesitated for a moment, but decided to challenge the vaunted arm of Alex Gordon with two outs. The throw skipped home, and Freese appeared to be caught. Except Salvador Perez couldn't corral the ball.
Chen still couldn't collect the third out on his own. Two batters later, Pujols plated Calhoun with a single, but the inning ended when Lorenzo Cain threw out Mike Trout at third.