Kansas City Royals starter Bruce Chen gave the team six solid innings and manager Ned Yost thought they were set up to close out the game on Friday night against the Boston Red Sox.
It didn’t happen as the Royals lost 4-3.
Chen walked last-minute lineup addition Mauro Gomez — who replaced first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, the centerpiece of a discussed trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers — to lead off the seventh inning.
Chen was relieved by Kelvin Herrera, who allowed two hits with two strikes, including a bloop double by Pedro Ciriaco that scored two and put the Red Sox on top by the final margin.
“It was tough,” Yost said. “The pitch to Ciriaco was actually not a bad pitch but it’s 0-2, you just threw him a good fastball and you come back with a changeup down.
“It was set up for Herrera. He just didn’t execute a couple 0-2 pitches.”
The Royals lost for the third time in four games after winning five of their previous six. After a dismal July, the Royals are 13-9 in August.
For Herrera (1-2), it was his first blown save of the year and second outing in a row in which he allowed at least one earned run. It was the third time this season he allowed earned runs in consecutive games and the first time since May.
“That pitch was down and he hit a blooper,” catcher Bryan Pena said. “He hit a good pitch.”
Chen, who has pitched at least six innings in three of his past four starts, settled down after allowing two runs in the first.
At one point, he retired seven Red Sox in a row. After a leadoff double by Dustin Pedroia in the sixth, Chen struck out David Ortiz and got consecutive popups before walking Gomez to start the seventh.
“(It was) one of those cases I tried to overthrow a little bit,” Chen said. “We’re winning by one run. (Jon) Lester was pitching well, and I didn’t want to leave something out over the plate where he could get extended and use that small fence in left field.”
For Lester (8-10), it was his third straight solid start and the Red Sox snapped a four-game losing streak. He allowed three runs and six hits in seven innings for his third win in three outings. He left the game after going to a 3-0 count against Billy Butler leading off the eighth. The left-hander grabbed his left hamstring and said later he suffered a cramp.
“He’s obviously not having his kind of a year but he’s still got great stuff and I thought putting up those runs against him was pretty impressive,” Royals left fielder Alex Gordon said of Lester. “We just couldn’t finish it at the end.”
The victory capped a day in which the Red Sox and the Dodgers discussed a major trade that would send Gonzalez, Boston’s best hitter, to Los Angeles.
Minutes before the game, Gonzalez was scratched from the lineup. In Los Angeles, first baseman James Loney was pulled from the lineup against the Miami Marlins. Gonzalez was leading the Red Sox with 86 RBIs, 145 hits and 37 doubles and was first in the majors with a .398 batting average with runners in scoring position.
They would be involved in a trade that was being discussed that would send right-hander Josh Beckett, left fielder Carl Crawford and infielder Nick Punto to Los Angeles, a baseball official informed of the discussions said, speaking on condition of anonymity because no announcements were made.
Beckett (5-11) was scheduled to pitch for Boston in the second game of the four-game series Saturday night.
Ciriaco continued his surprisingly hot hitting since being called up on July 6 from Triple-A Pawtucket. He went 4 for 6 in a 14-13 loss on Thursday night to the Los Angeles Angels, his third four-hit game of the season, and went 2 for 4 on Friday night.
Andrew Bailey got the last four outs for his first save of the season.
David Ortiz, activated Friday after 35 games on the disabled list, started the Red Sox scoring with a two-run single in the first that drove in Ciriaco and Jacoby Ellsbury, who also had singled.
The Royals tied the game in the third on a leadoff homer by Eric Hosmer, his 12th of the year, and an RBI double by Gordon. They went ahead 3-2 in the fourth on a bases-loaded infield single by Johnny Giavotella after a walk to Mike Moustakas, a single by Pena and a walk to Hosmer.
Notes: Jeremy Guthrie (2-3) is scheduled to pitch for Kansas City in the second game of the series Saturday night. ... In their past 16 games, Boston is 5-11 and Kansas City is 10-6.