KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It was a routine popup, an easy out to start the bottom of the seventh inning. But Nate Eaton took off running.
He knew, as all of baseball surely does by now, that nothing is routine when the Red Sox have Jarren Duran in center field.
Sure enough, Duran didn’t use his glove to shield his eyes from the Midwest sun and the ball landed on the grass to his left. Eaton slid in with a triple.
Kyle Isbel followed with a drive to the wall in center. Duran caught up to the ball but it popped out of his glove as he reached for it. That was ruled another triple.
The Royals stayed with a winning strategy as MJ Melendez lined a ball to left center. Duran dove to catch it but couldn’t prevent Isbel from scoring and Kansas City was on its way to a 13-5 victory on Sunday.
When the game paused for the Sox to bring in a relief pitcher, Duran started shouting at fans he said were throwing bottle caps at him. Right fielder Alex Verdugo and left fielder Tommy Pham came over to make sure it ended there.
It was the end of an ugly visit to Kauffman Stadium for the Red Sox, who lost three of four games to a Royals team that came into the series with a 41-64 record.
But then who are the Red Sox to have any expectations? They are 54-56 and in last place in the American League East. There is ample time to get back in the wild-card race but seemingly little sense of urgency given their 24 losses in the last 35 games.
“We have to go out there and get it. That’s how I see things,” said shortstop Xander Bogaerts. “If you want something and it’s in your reach, you can’t just be hoping things will get better and will turn around.
“You have to do it yourself. We need to win games.”
Manager Alex Cora feels the same way.
“We’ve just got to be better,” he said. “The whole, ‘We’re going to be fine; we’re going to be fine.’ We have to start winning games. It’s very important.”
The Red Sox are off Monday. Then comes a six-game homestand against the Braves, Orioles and Yankees. Of the 52 games remaining, 29 are against teams currently holding a playoff spot.
The Sox have lost four of five and been outscored by 15 runs since the trade deadline passed and chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom claimed they were committed to staying in the playoff chase despite trading away starting catcher Christian Vázquez.
The Sox also released Gold Glove center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. at the deadline, which they termed a “baseball decision.” Bradley, who remains a free agent, was a poor hitter this season but would have made those catches in center field with ease.
It’s not like Duran is making up for it at the plate. He was 4 for 24 on the road trip and has hit .140 in his last 24 games.
“He’s our center fielder,” Cora said. “We trust him. This is a kid that is part of what we’re trying to accomplish. We’re going to keep rolling with him.”
Duran didn’t duck from questions.
“I tried my best to put my hand up. I had my [sun]glasses on. Tried to get the angle. But it was right in the middle of the sun,” he said.
Duran, a second baseman in college, started playing center field in 2018 in Single A ball. Now the mistakes are magnified.
“I’m just learning my craft, working each day coming here and busting my butt and doing what I can do,” Duran said. “I have teammates helping me and keeping me positive.”
The eighth inning was somehow even worse. Darwinzon Hernandez walked the first three batters he faced. That led to Kansas City scoring six more runs as it sent 10 batters to the plate.
The Royals, one of the worst offensive teams in baseball, scored 29 runs and hit seven home runs in the series.
Melendez, who went 2 for 3 and drove in a career-high six runs on Sunday, had three of the home runs.
Kansas City took a 5-0 lead through five innings as Sox starter Kutter Crawford (3-4) was hit hard. Home runs by Pham and Rafael Devers got the Sox within two runs at 5-3 before the Royals scored the next eight runs.
Brad Keller, who was 5-12 with a 4.61 ERA, went six innings for the win, allowing one run.