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Originally published Tuesday, June 2, 2009 at 12:54 AM

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Hope fading after Royals lose of 16 of 21 games

After beginning the year on such a promising note, the Kansas City Royals must feel trapped in a cruel and savage time warp.

AP Sports Writer

KANSAS CITY, Mo. —

After beginning the year on such a promising note, the Kansas City Royals must feel trapped in a cruel and savage time warp.

It's no longer 2009. It's 2005. They're not the team that improved its record three years in a row, charmed everyone who believes in the work ethic and became the sexy pick in the AL Central. Again they look like stumblebums and sadsacks, hopeless also-rans in the midst of a long and dreary 100-loss year.

The schedule, in what almost seemed an act of mercy, gave the Royals Monday off before they launch a nine-game road trip. So there was time to collect their thoughts following a painful 1-5 homestand in which almost nothing went right and even Zack Greinke failed to hold a three-run lead.

What's so shocking is that just three weeks ago, the bad times finally seemed to be behind them.

They were 18-11, winners of five in a row and seven out of eight. They owned first place in the AL Central. They played in a renovated stadium. They were sending the game's best pitcher to the mound every five days, and they had the best staff ERA in baseball.

They also had a fan base that hadn't been this excited in more than a decade.

But since then, the Royals have played 21 games and won five.

They're now four games below .500. Only three teams in the league have a worse record, and only one has scored fewer runs.

It's familiar territory. The players seem to be finding new ways to lose, waiting for the opponent to take charge, just as they did when 100-loss seasons were the norm and the few good players they developed, such as Carlos Beltran, Jermaine Dye and Johnny Damon, couldn't wait to escape.

Players acknowledge they're at a loss for words.

"We're just going through a really tough stretch right now," right fielder Jose Guillen said. "This is the big leagues. We're all grown-ups and we all need to look in the mirror and realize it's not as bad a team as people think. We've just got to make adjustments and play like real big-league players."

Most discouraging is the way Kansas City has been giving games away. Instead of seizing opportunities, the team is throwing them back.

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Just look at Sunday's game.

After squandering Greinke's 4-1 lead, the Royals put the tying run at third on a walk, a sacrifice and the pitcher's throwing error in the sixth. But Octavio Dotel came out of the bullpen and struck out Willie Bloomquist and Mitch Maier.

But all that hardly compared with the opportunity Kansas City refused to accept in the seventh. A walk and Guillen's single put runners at first and second. With two out, Miguel Olivo struck out.

But in one of those lucky breaks that good teams pounce on like cats killing mice, the pitch was wild. Olivo was safe at first. Kansas City had new life and the bases loaded. But David DeJesus popped out.

Then it was time for the bullpen - weakened considerably with All-Star closer Joakim Soria being on the DL - to do its part in the continuing collapse of what once looked like a promising season.

After Jamey Wright struck out Paul Konerko starting the ninth, manager Trey Hillman brought in John Bale.

He gave up a single, threw a wild pitch and issued a walk. In came Juan Cruz, the loser of Saturday night's game. Cruz immediately walked a batter, loading the bases.

At that point, did anyone really think the White Sox would not win?

The next two batters singled, putting the finishing touches on a perfectly miserable 7-4 Kansas City loss. The White Sox didn't even need the wild pitch Cruz then uncorked.

"It's the same story," said Hillman. "I think the mental approach is there. I know it's being taught the right way. It's just a matter of guys making physical adjustments to go along with the situations that are presenting themselves when we've got what should be easy RBI opportunities."

When did the White Sox last sweep a three-game series in Kauffman stadium? In 2005.

How many did the Royals lose that year? Exactly 106.

If things don't turn around, this could be a long summer in a pretty stadium.

Copyright © The Seattle Times Company

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