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KC@PIT: Betancourt's shot puts Royals on the board

PITTSBURGH -- Different leagues, completely opposite situations. While the Pittsburgh Pirates are reaching for the heights, the Kansas City Royals are trying to avoid the depths.

When the Pirates dealt the Royals a 5-3 Interleague defeat on Saturday night, the Royals had lost three straight games and five of their last seven. In stark contrast, the Bucs had won 11 of their last 14.

The sellout crowd of 39,312 at PNC Park even got a bonus because the Pittsburgh's victory pulled it to within one game of first-place Cincinnati in the National League Central. Meantime, the Royals were hearing the double-time footsteps of the last-place Minnesota Twins, now just one-half game behind them in the American League Central.

"For us, it's frustrating," Royals catcher Brayan Pena said. "It's just that we know that we're way better than what we're playing."

The evening started promisingly for the Royals, too, as the teams took the field in the Negro League-style uniforms of the Kansas City Monarchs and the Homestead Grays.

James McDonald, a right-hander who has a dominant 11-4 career record at PNC Park, apparently didn't present his credentials to the Royals' Yuniesky Betancourt. After Alex Gordon walked in the third inning, Betancourt belted a home run into the left-field seats -- his third of the season.

Royals pitcher Vin Mazzaro paid no attention to that, either. After Eric Hosmer led off the Royals' fourth with a double to right field, Mazzaro came to bat with two out, Hosmer on third, and lined an RBI single to right field to give himself a 3-0 lead.

So imagine that you're an AL pitcher who's just got the first hit and the first RBI of your career.

"You want to enjoy it a little bit, you know," Mazzaro said.

But it didn't happen. Mazzaro didn't last through the bottom half of that inning after a letdown that manager Ned Yost feared might happen.

"It's been my experience with pitchers not in the National League, anytime they get a hit and run the bases, they [have a problem]," Yost said. "I tried to get Vinnie to sit down, get his heart rate down and go out there and throw strikes, so I was a little fearful when he got the hit that that type of inning might develop."

Mazzaro didn't feel that was really a factor in his downfall.

"I don't think so. I just ran a short sprint down to first base, I don't think it had any effect on me," Mazzaro said.

Whatever the cause, it turned out to be a 10-batter, five-run inning for the Pirates. Heck, except for the final flyout, only two balls left the infield in the inning.

"You've got the lead and you don't want to go out there and walk the first guy, then get the next guy 0-2 and hit him," Mazzaro said.

That's what happened, followed by Barajas' lined single to right that loaded the bases. Then Clint Barmes got an RBI single to shortstop and Yost decided to pull Mazzaro immediately.

"Knowing how good their pitching staff is and how we've been struggling to score runs, I wanted to try to stop the bleeding right then and there," Yost said. "It just didn't happen."

Reliever Kelvin Herrera came in to face Matt Hague, pinch-hitting for McDonald. Hague hit a looper into short right field that Yost thought Hosmer, his temporary outfielder, should have caught.

"I was playing pretty deep and got a bad read on it," Hosmer said. "I came in and I didn't want to dive with the bases loaded, so I just played the bounce and tried to throw him out."

He darn near did. Hosmer's throw to Pena at the plate was in time for a forceout, but the Royals' catcher bobbled the ball enough that umpire Jim Wolf ruled that Jose Tabata was safe. Pena was charged with an error.

"Honestly, I need to watch the replay. I think I had control of the baseball," Pena said. "It was a tough hop. I was trying to catch the baseball and at the same time not let it go behind me. ... I thought I had it, I really did."

The Pirates kept going. Alex Presley got an RBI single and two more runs scored on infield outs to make it 5-3. Pirates manager Clint Hurdle figured it was like real estate -- location, location, location.

"It wasn't loud, but balls were finding grass and just finding spots," Hurdle said. "A tough inning, if you're playing defense. Nobody barreled up the ball. A couple of plays that almost happened didn't -- we got some breaks."

And that's the way it ended with the Royals' offense again flat. In their last eight games, they've scored more than three runs just once -- and that was in a loss.

On Saturday night, they were just 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position. Their only productive two-out hit came from their pitcher.

"We just haven't been able to kind of get that big hit when we need it to get it going," center fielder Jeff Francoeur said. "It seems like we start rallies and kind of give ourselves two outs and that's tough. It'd be nice to load the bases with no outs or get second and third with no outs, where you can kind of bang it around. Right now, we're forcing ourselves to come up with that big hit with two outs and it's just not happening."

Maybe on Sunday.

"When you get into a little offensive lull, you keep hoping tomorrow is the day you're going to break out of it, because this is a good group of young hitters," Yost said. "You just keep plugging away."

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