KANSAS CITY - The Nationals scored in the top of the first inning, keeping with their usual theme. But then their starting pitcher gave it right back (and then some) shortly after, completely bucking recent trends.
Despite homers from Anthony Rendon and Daniel Murphy, the Nats find themselves trailing 3-2 after four innings at Kauffman Stadium after the Royals strung together a three-run rally against Tanner Roark.
First, the good news: Rendon finally hit his first homer of the season, a 411-foot solo shot over the left field bullpen in the top of the first. The victim of a number of hard-hit balls that happened to be right at an opposing defender, Rendon at last put one somewhere it couldn't be caught.
In doing so, he recorded the Nationals' 33rd first-inning run of a season in which they've scored a total of 102. Those early offensive explosions have prevented them from needing to play catch-up most nights and have given their pitchers a chance to take the mound with some cushion right away.
Roark, though, didn't take advantage of the support this time. Though he got through his first two innings on a scant 12 pitches, the right-hander got himself into trouble in the third via a pair of walks. Alcides Escobar made him pay for it with an RBI single to right, tying the game. Shortly after that, Eric Hosmer delivered a two-run single to right-center (the kind of clutch, two-out hit that became synonymous with the Royals during their World Series run last year).
Down 3-1, the Nationals did strike right back. Murphy launched a 419-foot homer that nearly landed in the fountains in right field in the top of the fourth, his third home run of the season and his 14th extra-base hit in 25 games played so far in 2016.
Update: Bryce Harper is in a serious funk right now. It's not just a little slump. He looks lost at the plate. Harper just had a chance to break out of it in a big way after Chris Young loaded the bases with two outs in the top of the fifth, bringin the MVP to the plate. Royals manager Ned Yost decided not to mess around anymore and summoned Luke Hochevar from his bullpen. Well, the 2006 No. 1 draft pick beat the 2010 No. 1 draft pick, getting him to ground into a fielder's choice on an 0-2 pitch (after Harper looked silly swinging at a breaking ball moments earlier). So the Nats stranded the bases loaded and Harper now finds himself 1 for his last 21. And it remains a 3-2 Royals lead after five.
Update II: Who needs Bryce? Not the Nats, not right now. They just rallied to score three runs in the top of the sixth and take a 5-3 lead, thanks to the bottom of the lineup. Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth each singled to set the table, then Wilson Ramos drove an RBI double to deep right field (with Jarrod Dyson getting all twisted around trying to make the play), Danny Espinosa drove in another run with a groundball to second and Chris Heisey drilled an RBI triple (?!) off the wall in deep center, with Lorenzo Cain struggling to make the play. I know the Royals outfield defense is the best in baseball, but man have they been unimpressive the last two nights. The Nats will gladly take it, now up a pair as they move to the seventh.
Update III: It's now 6-4 Nats after an eventful eighth. Werth crushed a solo homer in the top of the inning, then the Royals got a run off Roark and knocked him from the game in the bottom of the inning. Felipe Rivero came in from the pen, though, and got a pair of groundballs to short to escape with a two-run lead intact.
Update IV: Jonathan Papelbon inherited a 6-4 lead in the ninth. He departed with a 7-6 loss tagged to his name. The Royals got to him with five hits in the inning, capped by Lorenzo Cain's game-winning drive past a diving Michael A. Taylor in left-center field. The winning streak is over.