Josh Reddick plucked the ball from his glove after Omar Infante’s single in the first inning Monday night and tried to routinely return it to the infield.
Then it slipped from his hand. And while thousands of fans inside Kauffman Stadium started to chuckle at the blunder – Reddick’s throw traveled all of about 20 feet – the Royals’ Jarrod Dyson was on his way to third base, where he later scored from on a double-play groundout.
The smallest of errors proved to be enormous by the end.
Despite a stingy effort from Sonny Gray, the Royals managed to coax across two more runs on Monday night. Combined with that run in the first inning, it was enough to send Kansas City to a 3-2 victory and take over first place in the AL Central from Detroit.
“It’s pretty embarrassing, especially since it cost us a run,” Reddick said. “And we end up losing by one run, so it doesn’t make you feel any better. Defensive mistakes happen and are pretty big right now. For me, it’s something that’s never happened. It just takes that much more of a toll on you.”
The victory, coupled with a loss by Detroit in Pittsburgh, gave the long-suffering Royals their 16th win in 19 games and the division lead at the latest point in a season since 2003.
Alcides Escobar drove in a run in the second inning before delivering a two-out single off Gray (12-6) in the seventh, putting Kansas City in front and sending the crowd to its feet.
Kelvin Herrera (3-2) took over for Ventura and tossed spotless seventh inning, and Wade Davis breezed through the eighth. Greg Holland worked the ninth for his 35th save.
It didn’t come without a little drama.
Josh Donaldson led off the ninth with a single, the first hit by the Athletics since the second inning, and Brandon Moss drew a walk. But after a brief conference on the mound, Holland got Derek Norris to bounce into a double play and Stephen Vogt to fly out to end the game.
“You know the way they’ve been pitching, you’ve got to hold them down,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “We certainly did that. We just came up a little short.”
After the Royals took their 1-0 lead in the first, Escobar delivered the first of his two-out singles in the second to establish a cushion.
Oakland answered the next inning with significant help from Ventura, who worked to overcome command problems most of the night. John Jaso led off with a single, Coco Crisp worked a walk and Donaldson earned another free pass to load the bases with two outs.
Moss hit a full-count pitch up the middle to score both runners and knot the game.
Royals manager Ned Yost pulled Ventura after a double play got the rookie right-hander through the sixth inning. And when Gray faltered in the seventh to give Kansas City the lead, one of the best bullpens in baseball made sure the smallest of margins was enough.
“You want to be in first place. Our goal was to get back to first place,” Yost said. “Now our goal is to stay in first place.”
Gray struck out a career-low two batters while losing to Kansas City for the second time in his young career. The only other team he’s lost to twice is Baltimore. “It was two good teams going at it. It’s always going to be one mistake,” he said, “and unfortunately for us I was the one who made the mistake.”
The Royals have not trailed since the first inning of Thursday’s game in Arizona, a span of 44 innings. “There’s just a real confidence right now when we step on the field,” Yost said.
The A’s Ryan Cook extended his scoreless stretch to 19 innings, best in the majors. Davis has the second-longest streak at 17 2-3 innings, and Herrera is next at 17 1-3 innings.
Athletics: SS Jed Lowrie was back in the starting lineup. He’s missed time recently with a bruised right index finger.
Royals: 1B Eric Hosmer continues to wear a brace on his right hand after breaking his third metacarpal. He hopes to return in September.
LHP Jon Lester, who beat the Royals in his first start with Oakland, tries to move to 3-0 since arriving from Boston in a July 31 trade. Kansas City counters with RHP Jeremy Guthrie.