The eighth inning Friday night wasn’t the only time a Texas Rangers pitcher had trouble with two outs and the bases empty.
It had been a trend from the fourth inning on, with the exception of their lone 1-2-3 inning in the seventh, and it was a big reason why a thinned-out bullpen was called upon earlier than desired.
But what happened with Jason Frasor and Neftali Feliz on the mound in the eighth isn’t supposed to happen to any pitcher, especially in a fight for a playoff spot.
The Royals loaded the bases against Frasor after two quick outs to start the eighth inning, and Feliz walked No. 9 hitter Alcides Escobar on four pitches to push home the game-winner for Kansas City in a 2-1 loss.
Yet again, a bullpen meltdown has put the Rangers on the wild-card canvas, and the latest loss had them outside of the playoff picture behind Cleveland and Tampa Bay, who was tied with Baltimore in the 16th inning late Friday.
“We were able to shut it down all other innings,” manager Ron Washington said. “That last inning we just couldn’t do it.
“I’m not worried about Cleveland moving ahead of us. What I’m worried about is us winning a ballgame every night. We didn’t win it tonight.”
Tanner Scheppers should be back on the list of available relievers Saturday after telling the coaching staff he could go only if absolutely necessary on the heels of appearances in three straight games.
Washington interpreted that to mean if the Rangers went to extra innings.
“We can’t hurt the kid,” he said.
Scheppers would normally have pitched the eighth after Martin Perez allowed one run in 5 2/3 innings and Neal Cotts worked the next 11/3 innings. But Frasor got the call for the eighth, which he opened with strikeouts of Billy Butler and Salvador Perez.
Lorenzo Cain, however, sent a chopper through the middle to keep the inning alive, and Mike Moustakas followed with a bloop single to put runners at the corners.
Frasor was ahead of pinch hitter David Lough 1-2 in the count, but Lough came back to draw a walk to fill the bases.
“It certainly started out good,” said Frasor, who hit 30 pitches on ball 4 to Lough. “I threw him a lot of changeups. I threw so many I couldn’t get the feel for my fastball. It stinks when you get taken out and you have to rely on somebody else.”
Feliz entered and threw four straight balls to Escobar to put the Royals out front. It was the 19th walk for Escobar in 617 plate appearances. Escobar entered the game averaging one walk for every 34.06 plate appearances, second lowest ratio in the American League.
“It just tells you those pitches weren’t anywhere near the strike zone,” Washington said.
The Rangers’ offense collected only five hits against Ervin Santana and two relievers. But they scored first as Adrian Beltre started the second with a single and scored on a double by A.J. Pierzynski.
But Santana would retire the next 11 batters, a stretch that ended when David Murphy doubled with two outs in the fifth. Leonys Martin followed with an infield hit, and Ian Kinsler walked to load the bases for Elvis Andrus.
It looked like the Rangers would score on a wild pitch, but the ball hit the base of the backstop and caromed back to catcher Salvador Perez and forced Murphy to hold. Andrus then struck out to end the threat.
“Sometimes that happens. Balls get past catchers, and sometimes things don’t go your way,” Washington said. “But, still, we were in a good position. We just needed to get a hit.”
Kansas City didn’t fare much better against Martin Perez, who had lost consecutive starts after winning six in a row, but the Royals made him work.
The left-hander didn’t have a 1-2-3 inning, though three times he retired the first two batters in an inning before allowing the next two to reach. Seven of the 12 base runners he allowed reached with two outs, including Justin Maxwell on a second-inning double that eluded a diving Martin in center for the Royals’ first run.
Perez gave up seven hits, walked four batters and hit another, but Kansas City got him for only the one run before he exited in the sixth after 107 pitches.
His trouble with two outs made his pitch count soar and forced Washington to turn to a thin bullpen. Perez’s two-out woes were also the start of a disturbing trend that ended with a disastrous outcome in the eighth inning against Frasor and Feliz.
Now, the Rangers are once again the wild-card canvas.