A strange call and, later, big mistakes by Neil Walker and Rick Sofield led to a 3-1 Pirates loss to the Royals Tuesday night.
In the top of the second, Starling Marte led off with a shot to left that was initially ruled a solo homer. The ball had hit near the top of the wall, though, and caromed weirdly over another wall. Apparently, at Kauffman Stadium, the rule is that if it's below the fence line, it's in play, so the hit was ruled a ground-rule double upon review. Marte stole third, but (after Royals starter Jason Vargas left due to injury) Joe Blanton struck out Brent Morel and Chris Stewart, and Marte was stranded.
Gerrit Cole cruised through several innings after that. But the Pirates couldn't get anything going against Blanton and Ryan Madson, even though at this point last year, those players seemed as likely to be pitching in an old timers' game in Philadelphia as they were to be pitching in the big leagues. The Bucs did manage something resembling a rally against Kelvin Herrera in the top of the eighth, but the Royals brought in the terrific Wade Davis to strike out Andrew McCutchen to end it.
With one out in the bottom of the eighth, Omar Infante hit a routine ground ball to second that Walker somehow allowed to go through his legs. Alex Rios then hit a liner to center, and Infante went around to third while Rios advanced to second on McCutchen's throw. Then Cole, whose pitch count was by that point up to 107, gave up a two-run single to Jarrod Dyson, who headed to second as Polanco struggled to field it. Dyson then stole third and came home as Alcides Escobar singled off Arquimedes Caminero.
Maybe the Royals would have scored a couple of those runs anyway had Walker fielded the ball, and it's not as if the rest of the Pirates' defense shined that inning, either. It was, however, hard not to see Walker's miscue as the galvanizing force in that inning.
But it was still just an error -- those things happen. What went down in the ninth was far worse. Marte led off with a single, and then Jung-Ho Kang doubled over Lorenzo Cain's head in center. Cain threw the ball in quickly, and Rick Sofield waved Marte around. Cutoff man Alcides Escobar fired the ball to Salvador Perez, and Marte was out fairly decisively. There was, obviously, no reason whatsoever for Sofield to take that risk, since Marte didn't represent the tying run or anything all that close to it. Travis Ishikawa later singled Kang home, but the damage had been done. The Pirates loaded the bases later in the inning, but Greg Holland struck out Polanco to finish it out.