When the Braves and Mike Minor fell behind early against the Royals on Wednesday, it was shaping up as yet another night of the traveling blues for the squad from Georgia.
Minor gave up a homer on his third pitch and three runs in the first three innings of Wednesday’s road-trip finale, and the Braves didn’t score through six.
Just when things were looking all too familiar for the Braves — beasts at home, paper tigers on the road — they awakened with a three-run seventh and went to extra innings at Kauffman Stadium. But it was a tease, because they wasted their 10th-inning scoring opportunity, and the Royals cashed in theirs for a 4-3 win.
The Braves have an 8-15 record in their past 23 road games, compared with 17-6 in their past 23 at Turner Field.
“We’ve definitely got to step it up on the road, because you aren’t going to win in the playoffs if you can’t win games on the road,” said catcher Gerald Laird, who grounded into an inning-ending double play with two on base in the 10th. “We give ourselves opportunities, but it just seems like maybe we’ve got to bring a little more energy and try to get after it a little more, because this team is way too talented to play like we do on the road.”
Rookie Alex Wood (0-2) was brought in to start the 10th for the Braves, who used setup men Luis Avilan and Jordan Walden to get through the seventh through ninth innings. David Lough led off with a single for the Royals and advanced on a sacrifice bunt before Alex Gordon flared a single near the left-field line to bring in the winning run.
“Brought him in to face the left-handers, to face Gordon and the other guys,” Gonzalez said of going with Wood in that situation. “And those guys beat you. They executed a bunt, and then you’re facing Gordon with a runner on second base and (Alcides) Escobar on deck. You know, at least he didn’t walk anybody.”
The Braves split the two-game series and went 2-3 on the five-game trip that began in Milwaukee, dropping their season road record to 20-23. They are are majors-best 25-11 at Turner Field, where they will play host to Arizona on Friday to begin a six-game homestand against the Diamondbacks and Marlins.
After Jason Heyward led off the Braves’ 10th with a single and advanced on Justin Upton’s ground out, the Royals intentionally walked Freddie Freeman with first base open and Laird on deck. Gonzalez elected not to pinch-hit Brian McCann for Laird, who grounded hard into a double play on the first pitch from righty Aaron Crow (4-3).
“I feel comfortable that Gerald’s going to give you a great at-bat,” Gonzalez said of the veteran backup, who had been 6-for-10 with runners in scoring position. “He’s shown that since he’s been here from the beginning, and (if you bring in McCann) you’re going to pinch-hit for a guy who’s been in the game, who’s warm, who’s swinging it, for a guy who’s been sitting around for three hours.”
Minor recovered after the two-run first inning and finished with three runs and nine hits allowed in six innings. The left-hander had four strikeouts with no walks, and one run would’ve been unearned if Laird had been charged with an error on a play at the plate in the first.
“I felt like I was making good pitches again,” said Minor, who had allowed 16 hits and nine runs (eight earned) in 12 innings over his previous two starts. “There’s three runs on the board, but I feel like they only hit two balls hard.”
Gordon snapped a streak of 159 homerless at-bats with his leadoff home run in the first inning. Two outs later, Billy Butler doubled and tried to score on Salvador Perez’s single to left field. Jordan Schafer made a strong throw to the plate, but Laird dropped the ball before he had control of it. Butler scored, and Perez was credited with an RBI single.
“That’s a play that I’ve made tons of times. Just that one time when you want to make it, it doesn’t go your way,” Laird said. “I saw where he was at. I was just trying to make sure I short-hopped it and was able to get over there and tag him. I think maybe I thought I didn’t have as much time as I had, and it just kind of went through my legs.”
The Royals pushed the lead to 3-0 in the third, when Minor allowed hits to four of the first five batters. Shortstop Andrelton Simmons prevented more damage by catching Eric Hosmer’s line drive and rifling a throw to first base to double off Escobar, and the Royals stranded runners at second and third base when Lorenzo Cain popped out.
That began a stretch in which Minor recorded 10 outs in his last 11 batters, with an assist from Laird when he threw out a runner attempting to steal to end the fourth inning.
The Braves couldn’t muster much through the first six innings against Luis Mendoza. In the second inning they had runners on second and third with none out before B.J. Upton flied out, not deep enough to test Jeff Francoeur’s arm in right field.
A walk later, the Braves had the bases loaded with one out before Chris Johnson struck out and Simmons grounded out to leave them full.
“We had an opportunity to get ahead, and we didn’t do that,” Gonzalez said. “Usually when those situations go by and you don’t take advantage, we’ll be sitting thinking about it tonight, three hours later, thinking about how we didn’t score any runs.”
They started the day with a league-worst .225 average with runners in scoring position, and the Braves went 0-for-5 in those situations through five innings. Johnson singled with one out in the fifth and advanced on a wild pitch, but Simmons grounded out and Schafer struck out.
Those were the Braves’ only scoring opportunities until the seventh, when they got a pair of one-out singles from Dan Uggla and Johnson. Mendoza was replaced by long-ago Braves prospect Bruce Chen with two out, and pinch-hitter Reed Johnson greeted the 36-year-old lefty with an first-pitch single to cut the lead to 3-1.
Chen walked Heyward, and righty Luke Hochevar came in to face Upton, who singled to drive in two runs for a 3-3 tie.