By Andy McCullough
The opportunities were scant and scattered for the Royals in Tuesday night's 2-0 loss to Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers. The best appeared at 9:27 p.m., with one out in the seventh inning, when K.C. completed a somewhat remarkable feat: It accumulated two hits off Kershaw in the same inning.
All night long, Kershaw had been both surgical and dismissive. He cast aside his opponents with ease, and defused crises as they arose. When Omar Infante singled to center and Danny Valencia followed with a single to left, the crowd at Kauffman Stadium grabbed on to the moment, roaring as Justin Maxwell walked to the plate.
Kershaw would have to best the Royals' No. 8 and No. 9 hitters to escape. He completed the task with ease. Maxwell grounded into a fielder's choice. Alcides Escobar created a tad more drama -- he knocked a fastball back between Kershaw's legs, but second baseman Miguel Rojas threw him out.
Kershaw followed his last start, one of the greatest pitching performances in baseball history, with more straightforward brilliance. The $215 million pitcher left a distinct impression.
"I don't think he got enough money," Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer said.
Never before had he faced the Royals, 40-37, and on Tuesday, he devastated them. He bullied his hosts for eight scoreless innings, did not yield an extra-base hit and wielded a slider that "had teeth," Royals manager Ned Yost said.
The effort from Danny Duffy (4-7, 2.69 ERA) lacked aesthetic pleasure. The Royals' starter toiled through six innings and allowed only one run. He recovered from a first-inning stumble and survived four hits and four walks to keep his teammates close.
"If this was this time last year, he wouldn't have made it through three," Yost said.
The Royals had beaten a former Cy Young winner in three of their previous four victories. They drubbed Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer in Detroit. A five-run lashing of Zack Greinke on Monday snapped a four-game losing streak. In Kershaw, they ran into a force at the height of his powers.
Kershaw, the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner, could not duplicate his most recent effort. Last Wednesday, facing the Rockies at Dodger Stadium, he struck out 15 in a no-hitter. A single by Eric Hosmer in the first inning assured Kershaw would not match Johnny Vander Meer's feat of back-to-back no-hitters.
But Kershaw still loomed as a momentous challenge.
After taking over as hitting coach, Dale Sveum instructed the team's video coordinator to alter the packages on opposing starters. Sveum wanted the clips to include only instances in which hitters collected extra-base hits off that night's opponent. For Kershaw, the necessary footage dipped back in 2013: He had given up an extra-base hit to a left-handed batter just once this season.
His counterpart had yet to allow one. Duffy has emerged as a vital component of the team's rotation this season, and displayed signs of improved efficiency earlier this month. The Dodgers subjected him to a first-inning gauntlet.
The test began with utility infielder Justin Turner. Duffy tried five times to vanquish Turner with full-count fastballs. Turner fouled off the first four and then drove the last into the right-center gap. A dive from Lorenzo Cain came up empty, and Turner had a triple.
"He was just sitting fastball," Duffy said. "And I didn't throw him anything but fastballs."
Duffy held Turner at third by getting Matt Kemp to ground out. Yost called a conference on the mound, and suggested intentionally walking Yasiel Puig. Duffy shook him off, only to see Puig reach on an infield single. With runners at the corners, Duffy reached out to snag a grounder off Adrian Gonzalez's bat, only to deflect the ball away from shortstop Alcides Escobar.
"I've been kicking myself since it happened, man," Duffy said.
The ball eventually reached Escobar, who picked up an out at second. Turner scored from third. Yost lamented Duffy's play but could only chastise him so much.
"The next inning, he dove for a ball, and it's like 'Danny, what are you doing?' " he said. "And he's like 'I'm trying, I can't help it!' It's just his competitiveness. It's his instinct. It's his reaction. He doesn't think. He just reacts."