A's lose wild series finale to Royals

A's lose wild series finale to Royals

OAKLAND -- Through seven innings on Sunday afternoon at McAfee Coliseum it looked like the Athletics would be able to finish their frustrating homestand with a silver lining. Backed by seven shutout innings from Joe Blanton, the A's led, 3-0, with their steady bullpen pegged to retire the final six outs.

But the Royals rallied for four runs in the eighth. After the A's forced extra innings with a run in the bottom of that inning, Kansas City added another in the 12th to win their second consecutive game, 5-4. The A's loss left them with a slim, one-half game lead over both the Yankees and Indians in the AL Wild Card race.

The game-winning run scored when Emil Brown singled to right to score Denny Hocking, who was at third base after singling to begin the inning. After the game though, that Royals rally was not the one being discussed.

"My main concern is that we gave up a three-run lead," said Oakland manager Ken Macha after his team's seventh loss in nine games. "Our bullpen has to not do that.

"We need to throw better out of the bullpen to close out that game, we absolutely do."

The Royals' late-inning rally was odd because it featured just one hit and that one was iffy at best. After the first three batters loaded the bases by reaching via walk, error and hit-by-pitch, Matt Stairs hit a towering fly ball to center. Mark Kotsay appeared to have a beat on it, but at the last moment he backed off, appearing to lose the ball in the sun. The ball dropped over his head and then bounced over the wall for a two-run ground-rule double.

"There's three ways to play the ball out of the sun, you play it to the side, you play it over the top or you play it underneath and when you're going back on a ball you don't have time to do any of those things," explained Kotsay.

"This is the toughest sun in the big leagues. Obviously with a day game, the sun is right above center field and it's no secret, it's going to be tough to catch fly balls."

A groundout and a sacrifice fly plated Kansas City's other two runs.

Jay Witasick, who loaded the bases in that inning before being pulled in favor of Joe Kennedy, had similar unfortunate luck in his appearance Friday against the Royals.

"In the last two games, I've unfortunately had a ball hit off a base and a couple of good plays that have turned into unfortunate errors and I've had an umpire make a kind of controversial call against me," he said. "With all that together it seems like the last two games have been kind of a cluster.

"My sinker is working better than it ever has, it's just that sometimes it's a curse and sometimes it's a blessing. These two games have been tough for me, but it's not affecting my confidence any and it's not affecting my game plan."

Kotsay's miscue in the field negated his solid at-bat in the sixth. After Jason Kendall led off the inning with a double, the outfielder laid down a bunt to move him to third. Never failing to hustle, Kotsay beat the off-line throw to first for a single. It was significant because it was the first time in 20 at-bats that an A's batter delivered a hit with runners in scoring position.

Bobby Crosby followed the bunt single with a more conventional single to left, scoring Kendall. The other two runs in the inning scored on a Dan Johnson sacrifice fly and a Jay Payton groundout to shortstop Angel Berroa.

Lost in the extra-inning contest was Blanton. When he departed, the Royals had tallied just five hits and fanned six times without scoring a run.

"Blanton was terrific," Macha said. "He put up seven zeros and I couldn't ask any more of him."

The outcome of the game was nothing new to the rookie. Blanton has made eight starts this season where he gave up two earned runs or less and not gotten a win.

"I don't think about it," he said when asked about the remarkable fact. "I just go out and pitch and try to keep us in the game and hopefully we'll be able to pull out the win. That's my job. A lot of people think it's our job to get wins, but I don't necessarily think so. I think it's our job to keep your team in the game and give them the opportunity to get the win at the end of the game."

The rookie righty has just two wins in August, but his ERA dipped to an American League-leading 1.13 ERA in the month.

Down by one in the eighth, the A's used a double by Crosby and a two-out Payton single to tie the game at four.

CJ Bowles is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.