Esky, Gordon unable to corral popup in 9th

Castro's single helps fuel Twins' 3-run rally against Herrera

Esky, Gordon unable to corral popup in 9th

KANSAS CITY -- Royals manager Ned Yost had everything lined up the way he wanted.

Starter Sam Gaviglio, making his Royals debut, provided five innings of one-run ball. Then, Yost brought in his parade of relievers. Scott Alexander got five outs. Peter Moylan got another. And then, Mike Minor got three more outs.

That set up closer Kelvin Herrera to get the final three outs in the ninth. But a defensive misplay turned Yost's plan around and opened the door for a three-run rally and a crushing 4-2 loss on Thursday night, sending the Royals 3 1/2 games behind the Twins for the second American League Wild Card spot.

With one out and one on, Jason Castro sent an innocent popup toward the left-field line. Herrera pumped his fist, thinking he had a second out.

But the ball mysteriously dropped between shortstop Alcides Escobar and left fielder Alex Gordon for a hit. After a walk loaded the bases, Brian Dozier's flyout should have been the final out. Instead it was a game-tying sacrifice fly. Moments later, a two-run single by Jorge Polanco finished off the Twins' comeback.

Yost on losing lead in 9th

Escobar and Gordon each said they couldn't hear anyone call the popup, which normally is the left fielder's call in that situation when an infielder has his back to the play.

"I never called for it," Escobar said. "I never had the ball [in my sight]. I was running with my back to home plate. I never had it. I didn't see Gordo. That play is a little difficult for me because I have my back to the infield. The last moment, I tried to dive for it, but I dropped the ball."

Statcast™ had the hit probability at one percent. It also showed Gordon had the easier play on it with a 91 percent catch probability for him. Escobar meanwhile had to cover 119 feet to get the ball, mostly with his back to the infield while trying to locate it.

"I was playing no-doubles and Esky had a long way to go," Gordon said. "It was going to be a tough play. I saw Esky go for it and I thought Esky was going to have it -- typical Esky play. I kind of got turned around. It was probably a ball I should have took. That's the bottom line."

Instead, a victory turned into a huge defeat in the opener of a crucial four-game series.

"This was a tough one," Gordon said. "It definitely hurts, having the game, the lead in the ninth, and to give it back. But we can't let this linger."

Jeffrey Flanagan has covered the Royals since 1991, and for since 2015. Follow him on Twitter @FlannyMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.