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Opener loss extends Royals' slump

Opener loss extends Royals' slump

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KANSAS CITY -- A week ago, Royals fans were primed to recognize a significant mark of progress. Just one more victory and, poof, the specter of another 100-loss season would vanish.

Well, they're still waiting.

Win No. 63 was put on hold by the Minnesota Twins as they defeated the Royals, 4-2, on a damp 60-degree Monday evening at Kauffman Stadium. The Royals want to avoid 100 losses for the fourth year in a row.

The loss was the sixth straight for the Royals, matching their second-longest skid of the season. They haven't won since Sept. 3 at Texas. However, they've got 19 games left.

"It'll come," catcher John Buck said. "I'll guarantee that. I don't think we'll lose that."

The Royals certainly are far ahead of last year's pace. Their 62nd win of 2006 didn't come until the last day of the season. This clearly is a more upbeat club, not prone to sinking into a mental abyss.

"In the past, you'd notice it, you'd think of it. But we were a swing away from breaking out of it and I thought that could happen anytime," Buck said.

"I don't think anybody is dwelling on it."

Manager Buddy Bell drew sustenance from this defeat in the performance of rookie right-hander Billy Buckner. In just his second Major League start, Buckner went 5 1/3 innings and was charged with three runs.

Compared to his first start at Texas, Buckner was more aggressive and threw a very good sinker, in Bell's view.

"The thing I liked more than anything was [Jason] Kubel came up the third time and [Buckner] was not going to let him get a hit the third time," Bell said.

Kubel belted doubles in each of his first two at-bats, the latter a two-run gapper that would have been a triple had not Kubel slipped off the bag into a tag. When Kubel batted in the fifth, Buckner fired a called third strike past him.

"You've got to take positives out of it," Buckner said. "I was able to keep them to a minimum of hits, but I was letting them on the bases for free so it was give-and-take with that."

Buckner gave up just three hits but walked five, not his usual style. "I'd like to take back some of those walks," he said. He used up 95 pitches and only 50 were strikes.

"Typical young guy, pitching away from contact at times but I liked what I saw -- I really did," Bell said.

The score was still knotted at 2 when Buckner departed in the sixth after a walk to Torii Hunter. Reliever Neal Musser immediately gave up an RBI double to Justin Morneau and the Twins were in front to stay.

Winner Boof Bonser made it through just five innings. He wiggled out of jams until the fifth when Mike Sweeney's sinking liner eluded diving right fielder Michael Cuddyer and went for a two-run double.

Tony Pena Jr. also doubled in that inning and those were the Royals' only extra-base hits. They stranded 10 baserunners.

"We'll mix in a double once in a while, a triple maybe?" Bell said. "We don't like guys going up swinging for the fences, but it'd be nice to work in an extra-base hit here and there."

In that same inning, Bonser hit David DeJesus, who tried to dance away from a dirt-bound pitch, but was struck for 19th time this season. That set a Royals record, passing the 18 for Mike Macfarlane in 1994 and Angel Berroa in 2003.

Bonser's win eased his own difficult period with just his second victory in his last 16 starts.

Now the Royals are looking to ease a tough span, too.

"When you lose six straight, it stinks, and you know and you start pressing maybe just a little bit," reliever Jimmy Gobble said. "Not in a bad way, because you want to win."

And when will Royals fans see that elusive win No. 63?

"We'll get it tomorrow for you," Bell said.

Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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