The Royals own one of the most efficient bullpens in the game, but the Reds did to the Royals bullpen what teams have been doing all season to the Cincinnati bullpen.
The Reds crashed three home runs in the seventh — Jesse Winker, Freddy Galvis, Josh VanMeter — and scored four runs to draw within one run.
Then they ran out of miracles. The miracles switched dugouts.
The Reds had runners on third and second with one out in the eighth. Both Nick Senzel and Galvis took called third strikes.
Kansas City closer Trevor Rosenthal walked the bases loaded with one out in the ninth.
That brought up Christian Colon, hitting in Joey Votto’s spot because Votto was lifted for a pinch-runner in the eighth. Colon, a No. 1 draft pick by the Royals, wanted desperately to put a dagger into the backs of his former team.
Instead, he hit into a 5-4-3 double play. Game over. Miracle one run short and a long night for the Reds to think about what-should-have-been but didn’t happen.
“Yeah, we’re disappointed,” said manager David Bell. “We’re competing, doing everything we can to have opportunities like that. To fight back like that, give ourselves opportunities ... we just have to keep doing that. That’s all you can ask. If we continue to get runners on base like that, good things are going to happen.”
Not on this night.
Reds starter Wade Miley, fresh off the injured list after two weeks medicating a groin injury, pitched through a cascade of rust.
Whit Merrifield opened the game with a double and scored on some defensive slippage. Catcher Tucker Barnhart was charged with a passed ball, moving Merrifield to third, and he scored on a short ground ball that shortstop Galvis threw highto home plate.
Miley then issued a walk and gave up a single to Ryan McBroom, filling the bases with one out. Miley escaped serious damage by striking out Maikel Franco and getting a ground ball, leaving it at 1-0.
Reds leadoff hitter Shogo Akiyama fouled off a pitch that struck plate umpire Chris Conroy, drawing blood and fracturing his right ring finger.
There was an 18-minute delay while Jeff Nelson put on the gear to umpire home plate. Amazingly, fractured finger and all, Conroy returned to umpire third base in the third inning.
When play resumed, Akiyama singled up the middle on a 2-and-2 pitch. Keller had retired 34 straight batters when he had two strikes.
Keller issued two walks to fill the bases with two outs but Senzel popped out.
Miley needed 33 pitches to cover the first inning. He retired the first two in the second, but may have tweaked his groin running to cover first base for the second out, although he said he was OK.
When he issued a two-out walk, Bell lifted him for Tyler Mahle, Mahle’s first major league relief appearance.
“The ball was coming out of my hand pretty good, better than last time,” said Miley, who survived only two-thirds of an inning in his previous start, “I managed to get through the first inning with only one run and I felt better in the second.
“In any situation you don’t want to come out and leave on that note,” he added. “I was a lot happier the second inning the way the ball was coming out. I was making pitches I wanted to make.”
Bell, though, thought it was Mahle time.
Mahle made two starts when Miley was absent and was outstanding. But as a relief pitcher on this night, he was as ineffective as the rest of the Reds bullpen has been.
The Royals scored single runs in the third, fourth and fifth off Mahle.
KC veteran catcher Salvador Perez homered leading off the third, The Royals scored without a hit in the fourth when Mahle hit Adelberto Mondesi to lead the inning. Two Mahle wild pitches moved him to third and he scored on Merrifield’s sacrifice fly to make it 3-0.
Mahle loaded the bases in the fifth on a single and two walks and Ryan O’Hearn narrowly missed a grand slam. Center fielder Senaen went above the wall to snag it, holding it to a long sacrifice fly and a 4-0 Royals lead.
It became 5-0 in the sixth against Tejay Antone on a leadoff walks and Perez’s two-out run-scoring double.
Meanwhile, Keller cruised - which was no surprise. In his other start this season he pitched five shutout innings on three hits while striking out seven Chicago Cubs. That was after he recovered from testing positive for COVID-19.
Keller did not give up another hit after Akiyama’s leadoff single until Galvis dropped a base-hit bunt leading off the fifth.
Royals manager Mike Matheny took down Keller after six innings and 90 pitches.
He was replaced in the seventh by Ian Kennedy and in three blinks of his eyes it was 5-3 — bomb, walk, bomb.
Winker led with a home run, his 12th hit in his last 21 at bats. Senzel walked and Galvis unloaded on a 0-and-2 pitch, driving it into the right field seats and it was 5-3.
Kennedy was done. But the Reds weren’t.
Scott Barlow trudged to the mound, a guy who hadn’t given up a home run in 45 innings, dating back to the middle of last June. No more. Pinch-hitter VanMeter, hitless this season, whacked one into the seats, the Reds third homer of the inning and it was 5-4.
Amir Garrett pitched the eighth and issued a one-out walk. He went to 3-and-0 on Merrifield and Merrifield did the Reds a huge favor by swinging at the 3-and-0 and hitting into a 5-4-3 inning-ending double play.
The Reds muffed a huge opportunity in the eighth against Royals fireballer Josh Staumont. Votto led with a walk. Suarez was called out on a three-pitch strikeout.
Winker singled and pinch-runner Travis Jankowski scooted to third. Winker stole second, putting the potential tying run on third and the go-ahead run on second with one out.
Alas for the Reds, Senzel took a called third strike on a breaking pitch and Galvis took a called third strike on a breaking pitch. Staumont, who can throw 100, recorded three strikeouts in the inning, all called, all breaking pitches.
Then came the fateful ninth against Rosenthal. He walked VanMeter to open the inning. Barnhart tried a sacrifice bunt, the Reds’ first sacrifice attempt this season. It failed miserably.
Barnhart bunted right to third baseman Franco and he fired to second to force pinch-runner Michael Lorenzen.
“We’re facing a tough pitcher there and we have a fast runner (Lorenzen) on base,” said Bell about the bunt. “We loved our chances if we tied the game. We don’t do it alot. But in that situation we thought it was our best chance to bunt the runner to second base.”
Rosenthal walked Akiyama on four pitches and walked Nick Castellanos on a full count.
And Colon hit into the game-squashing double play.