KANSAS CITY -- All those beautiful promises that bloomed in Spring Training -- when the Royals manufactured the most runs in baseball, hit like demons, ran like madmen and fielded like angels -- looked as if they'd wilt on, of all days, Opening Day.
Then the Royals sprang to life in the last three innings and even a 4-2 loss to the Los Angeles Angels, with a sellout crowd of 40,055 at Kauffman Stadium on Thursday, didn't seem all that bad.
"We played a very good game, we were in it right to the end. I thought it was an exciting game and that's the tone I want us to set," manager Ned Yost said. "I want us to play the game hard, play the game right and win the game. The only thing we didn't do is win the game."
Primary reason: Angels right-handed pitcher Jered Weaver, who shut out the Royals on two hits through the first 6 1/3 innings, exiting with a 4-0 lead.
"Weaver is as good of a pitcher as I've seen being able to disrupt a hitter's timing. That's what pitching is all about, keeping a hitter off-balance," Yost said.
Once Weaver left, the Royals stopped wobbling and hit the ball -- Jeff Francoeur smacked a home run in the seventh inning off lefty reliever Hisanori Takahashi and Mike Aviles led off the eighth with a blast off righty Kevin Jepsen.
"It was just stupid, plain and simple," Jepsen said of the inside fastball he gave Aviles. "It was 0-1 and I threw it right into his zone. He's a pull hitter. It was elevated, inner half, and if you see the replay, he said, 'Thank you,' spun and drilled it."
And in the Royals' ninth, with two on and two out, those fans who stuck it out to the end on a 45-degree afternoon thought they'd discovered gold when Alex Gordon teed off on a pitch from Angels closer Fernando Rodney.
Up, up went the ball tantalizingly close to the left-field foul pole.
"Yeah, it was fair and I thought it was going to carry out but it sliced there at the end," Gordon said. "I don't know if I sliced it or the wind took it."
After the near-miss, Rodney struck him out and Opening Day was over.
"I was hoping to get a good heater and he gave me one and I just missed it a little bit," Gordon said. "I didn't adjust the way I needed to and chased the next couple pitches."
Yost didn't think Gordon's foul ball had a chance to go fair, but the manager viewed that at-bat with extreme confidence.
"That last at-bat, when he got up there, I thought he was going to hit it in the fountain, I really did," Yost said. "And he got a little too amped-up, but I thought Alex and all our hitters did a good job for Opening Day."
Royals right-hander Luke Hochevar, starting his first big league opener, escaped a base-loaded jam in the first inning. Howard Kendrick doubled, Aviles missed a tough bouncer at third for an error and Vernon Wells was plunked by a pitch. But Erick Aybar grounded out.
The fourth was a different story for Hochevar.
Hunter led off with a tremendous home run, estimated at 446 feet, over the center-field wall. Wells followed with a double to left field and scored as Aybar doubled down the right-field line. That's as far as it got, though, with Hochevar retiring the next three batters.
Jeff Mathis upped the Angels' lead to 3-0 by lofting a home run into the left-field seats after two were out in the sixth.
"Torii Hunter, a 3-2 count, I'm going right after him, and a ball came back over the plate and into his nitro zone," Hochevar said. "The curveball to Mathis, I want the ball down, but it's early in the count and I'm being aggressive in the zone."
Aviles' first-inning error was the first of three by the Royals. Two came on the same play immediately after Mathis' homer.
Fleet Peter Bourjos dropped a two-out bunt, which Hochevar snatched up, but he threw off-balance and past first base. Second baseman Chris Getz retrieved the rebound off the Dugout Suites screen and threw toward second but the ball struck Bourjos and bounded away. He wound up at third on what was scored a single with errors on Hochevar and Getz.
Understandable errors, in Yost's view.
"We all know what Jarrod Dyson is -- that's their Dyson," Yost said, comparing Bourjos to the Royals' own speedster. "He's very, very fast and if you make that play, you've got to come up and you've got to make a good throw."
Maicer Izturis followed with an RBI single to right to get the Angels a 4-0 lead and Hochevar out of the game.
Hochevar was followed by three relievers making their Major League debuts -- right-handers Aaron Crow and Nate Adcock and left-hander Tim Collins -- and they combined for 3 1/3 scoreless innings.
"I was very pleased and proud about the way the young kids came in and handled their first assignment in the big leagues," Yost said.
In the end, Yost was well-satisfied with his club's effort and his counterpart, Angels manager Mike Scioscia, was impressed as well.
"Those guys definitely pressed us the whole way," Scioscia said. "They're an aggressive team, and they made us work at the end."
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.