The plan this postseason has been pretty straightforward for the Kansas City Royals: Take an early lead and then hand the game over to a terrific trio of hard-throwing relievers.
A four-run third inning provided the lead Saturday night. But starter Jason Vargas got knocked out early and Jason Frasor, Danny Duffy and Brandon Finnegan failed to provide the bridge to the back end of the bullpen in an 11-4 loss to the San Francisco Giants in Game 4 of the World Series.
Now, instead of being in control, the Royals are tied two games apiece with the Giants and will send struggling starter James Shields to the mound against San Francisco ace Madison Bumgarner in Game 5 on Sunday.
The Royals hoped to take a 3-1 cushion into that game with a chance to clinch the Series or at worst head back home for the final two games with the lead. It appeared that might happen when they scratched together four runs in the third to take a 4-1 advantage.
The inning ended on a comic note when Vargas started jogging toward first base after taking a third ball from Jean Machi with the bases loaded. After getting almost halfway down the line, Vargas realized that it was only ball three, froze in a playful stance and returned to the plate.
The Royals laughed in the dugout about Vargas' brain freeze and he took strike three on the next pitch to end the inning. There wasn't much else to laugh about for Kansas City on this night.
Vargas gave up another run in the bottom of the third and was replaced by Frasor after allowing a double to left-handed hitter Joe Panik leading off the fifth.
The middle relievers needed to deliver six outs to get the Royals through the sixth inning, when manager Ned Yost would be able to turn the game over to Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland. That trio has three wins, seven saves and an 0.84 ERA in 32 1-3 innings this postseason. But now they will have to wait at least one more night to get a chance to protect another World Series lead.
Frasor got one out before he was lifted after allowing an RBI single to Hunter Pence. The left-handed Duffy then came in and loaded the bases by giving up a hit to Pablo Sandoval and walking Brandon Belt. The Giants tied the game on a sacrifice fly by Juan Perez, but Duffy was lucky only one run scored on the play as center fielder Jarrod Dyson made a diving catch to rob the Giants of a hit.
The game didn't stay tied for long as the 21-year-old Finnegan fell apart in the sixth, a night after getting two key outs in a Kansas City win and becoming the only player to appear in the College World Series and the big league version in the same year.
The Giants loaded the bases with one out in the sixth against Finnegan, who got Pence to hit into a forceout to keep the game tied. But then with the switch-hitting Sandoval batting from his weaker right side, Finnegan allowed a two-run single that put San Francisco up 6-4.
Left-handed batter Brandon Belt followed with another RBI single, and Finnegan was charged with two more runs in the seventh when the game got out of control.