KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Not once all game did Royals lefthander Bruce Chen throw a pitch faster than 88 miles per hour. His array of sinkers, sliders, changeups, and curveballs arrived at the plate on Thursday night without any bad intentions.
The Red Sox made contact, but usually hit the ball as softly as Chen threw it. The result was a 5-1 loss.
On a night when the rest of the American League East was idle, the first-place Sox missed a chance to add to their lead. Instead their edge on Tampa Bay was reduced to two games.
Don’t shake your head and wonder how the Sox lost to the Royals. Kansas City has won 14 of its last 16 games to crawl back into the wild-card race and has the lowest team earned run average in the league.
Chen (5-0) has played a big role in their resurgence. After pitching effectively out of the bullpen all season, the 35-year-old was put in the rotation July 12. He has a 1.14 ERA since and Kansas City has won four of his five starts.
Against the Sox, Chen allowed five hits over 7⅔ shutout innings. He walked one and struck out two.
“Obviously he’s been doing it to most everybody he’s faced given the performance numbers,” Sox manager John Farrell said.
Jon Lester (10-7) allowed one earned run over seven innings but took the loss. The Sox committed three errors behind him, including a drop by Jonny Gomes in left field in the first inning that changed the tenor of the game.
“It was one of those nights where I was trying to survive,” Lester said.
The first inning was a long and ugly one for Lester, who threw 41 pitches and allowed three runs.
Lorenzo Cain started the inning with a double to left field and took third when Eric Hosmer grounded to first base.
Lester walked Billy Butler before Alex Gordon sent a fly ball to left field.
Gomes started back on the ball, intending to be moving forward when he caught it. The idea was to use that momentum to make a strong throw to the plate.
“I think I had a pretty good shot at him,” Gomes said.
But Gomes stumbled on the wet grass, lost his footing, and did not recover in time to catch the ball. Gordon was credited with a sacrifice fly and Gomes was charged with an error.
“Got behind it and my plant leg just slipped. I took a chunk out of the grass,” Gomes said.
Said Lester: “Those things are going to happen sometimes.”
Lester got Miguel Tejada to pop to second base then walked Justin Maxwell on four pitches.
Mike Moustakas followed with a two-run single to right field when Lester left a fastball over the outer third of the plate.
After Lester struck out Brett Hayes to end the inning he walked off the mound shaking his head. Of the three runs, one was earned.
“I’ve got to do a better job of controlling that situation and [not] letting them get those other two,” Lester said.
Lester recovered and shut down the Royals over the six innings that followed on 80 pitches. He gave up only two other hits.
“I thought he righted himself after a long first inning,” Farrell said. “I thought he did an outstanding job for the seven innings of work . . . Overall he kept the game under control.”
Lester has a 3.48 ERA in his last five starts. Over 31 innings he has walked seven and struck out 30.
“I need to win more of those games but I feel like I’m getting close,” Lester said. “There are good signs if you try to look at the glass as being half full. It’s getting there.”
The Sox started the game well when Jacoby Ellsbury singled to center field. That he was then picked off seemed to set a tone for the rest of the night.
“He threw to both sides of the plate, got ahead, got in on our hands and went away,” Gomes said. “There weren’t a whole lot of pitches over the center of the plate. He stayed on the edges . . . If you’re lefthanded and throw strikes in this game, there’s life for you.”
The Sox didn’t advance a runner beyond first base until the eighth inning when Daniel Nava singled and Ellsbury singled with two outs.
With Chen at 108 pitches, his most all season, Royals manager Ned Yost went to Luke Hochevar. He needed two pitches to get Shane Victorino on a popup to third base.
The Royals extended their lead to 5-0 in the eighth inning when Butler and Maxwell homered off Rubby De La Rosa.
The Sox showed a little life in the ninth against Hochevar.
Gomes doubled to center and scored on a single by Stephen Drew (2 for 4). But struggling Mike Napoli, dropped to sixth in the order for the first time this season, grounded into a double play to end the game.
Napoli was 1 for 4. He has one hit in his last 19 at-bats.
The Sox are 1-3 against Kansas City this season with three games left in the series. Jake Peavy, who won his first start with the Sox after being acquired from Chicago, will start Friday night against Ervin Santana.