CLEVELAND -- The fifth pitch of the night foreshadowed everything that was to come.
Jonathan Sanchez uncorked a 79-mph slider on a 2-2 count and struck Tribe leadoff hitter Jason Kipnis in the hand.
The Royals contend that, despite what is now a 12-game losing streak, they are as relaxed and calm as ever. Sanchez, however, went wild on Tuesday and Kansas City suffered a 4-3 defeat to the Indians at Progressive Field.
A different venue offered the same results for the Royals, fresh off a winless 10-game homestand. The 12-game losing streak matches the longest for the Royals since a 13-game stretch from May 12-25, 2006. The franchise record of futility is 19 games, set in the summer of 2005.
Yet, this Royals team scoffs at the notion that the rough patch is indicative of the club's level of play.
"We're in every single ballgame," said third baseman Mike Moustakas. "We're right there; we're about to click. We just have to get through this tough time right now, and brighter days are ahead."
For much of the night, Sanchez flirted with trouble. His propensity to walk a tightrope caught up with him in the fifth.
The southpaw walked the bases loaded for the second time in the game and, after yielding a sacrifice fly to Shelley Duncan, served up a two-out, two-run double to Jack Hannahan. The timely knock ended Sanchez's night and provided Cleveland with a 4-1 edge.
"He's got a knack of getting out of that," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "It just caught up to him today. It's just fastball command. If he can command his fastball, he's going to be in great shape."
Sanchez left the game having labored through 115 pitches, 59 of them out of the strike zone. He walked seven and threw a wild pitch. In his previous start against Cleveland on April 14, he lasted just 2 2/3 innings and hit right fielder Shin-Soo Choo with a pitch, which triggered a benches-clearing altercation.
Without command of his fastball on Tuesday, he relied more on off-speed pitches.
"He was throwing a lot of changeups," Hannahan said. "It's something that we haven't seen from him. I don't think he's ever really done that."
Despite Sanchez's struggles, the Royals remained in the ballgame, as they have on a regular basis during the losing streak. Five of the 12 losses have come by one run. Another three defeats have come by two runs.
The constant theme throughout each of the close calls has been a lack of clutch hitting. Such was the case on Tuesday, as the Royals went 4-for-13 with runners in scoring position, leaving 11 men on base. Kansas City was 0-for-10 with RISP in Monday's 4-1 loss to Toronto, and batted an abysmal .150 (9-for-60) with runners in scoring position on the homestand.
"We'll break through," Yost said. "There has been a lot of missed opportunities, but I felt like our at-bats tonight were better with runners in scoring position. I really did."
The Indians didn't exactly cash in on Sanchez's wildness. Cleveland left 13 runners on base. Sanchez escaped harm in the second inning after walking the bottom three hitters in the Tribe lineup. With no outs and the bases loaded, the left-hander induced a popout from Kipnis and an inning-ending double play from Asdrubal Cabrera.
The Indians again loaded the bases with no outs in the eighth, but reliever Jose Mijares recorded three straight outs to keep Cleveland from padding its lead.
That allowed the Royals to scrape together a pair of meaningful rallies. Kansas City scratched across a run in the eighth after center fielder Mitch Maier delivered an RBI double that whizzed past the glove of a diving Casey Kotchman. But Maier and Moustakas remained marooned on base as shortstop Alcides Escobar grounded out to Tribe set-up man Vinnie Pestano to end the inning.
Designated hitter Billy Butler tacked on the Royals' final run in the ninth with an RBI groundout. First baseman Eric Hosmer notched a two-out single, but the tying run never even sniffed home plate.
"That's how it's been this year for us," Moustakas said. "We need that one hit and we just haven't been able to get it across. We're getting guys in scoring position and we're just not able to find that one hit that we need."
Barely 10 percent of the season is in the books. The Royals know that, over time, things tend to even out. Each loss has provided the club with extra frustration, but also additional optimism that, with one swing of the bat or one stellar outing, fortunes can change.
Yost has drawn plenty of positives from what has been a trying time.
"The way that these kids continue to get after it, it's hard for me to believe that we've lost 12 in a row," Yost said. "They're out there battling as hard as they are and right until the very end. It's just a great sign about this team."