PITTSBURGH -- The Royals encountered Pittsburgh at a bad time on the Interleague calendar. The Pirates are hot.
The Bucs knocked off the Royals, 4-2, on Friday night to entertain 36,069 fans at PNC Park with their 10th victory in the last 13 games as they pursue first-place Cincinnati in the National League Central. The Reds maintained a two-game lead.
To make things easier for the Pirates, the Royals indulged in some defensive work that could be considered, well, sloppy.
"I wouldn't call it sloppy," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "We've got guys playing out of position in a National League park and it's going to take them a day or two to get acclimated."
In the second inning, the Royals' makeshift outfield defense immediately sprung a leak.
Rod Barajas singled and first baseman-turned-right fielder Eric Hosmer booted the bounce. Barajas reached second on the error.
"It was one of those in-between ones that I thought I could get to, but I couldn't and I just tried to block, and it kicked off the other way a little bit," Hosmer said. "It was just a bad read on my part."
Clint Barmes followed with a single to left-center that Jeff Francoeur, playing center instead of his usual right field, fielded and got off a strong throw. It took catcher Humberto Quintero slightly to his left and he lunged at Barajas, who artfully slid past the tag and slipped his hand across the plate. Quintero almost had him.
"Almost and having him are two different things, though," Yost said. "He didn't miss him by much, though. I got a pretty good shot at it and he just missed him, but never did tag him."
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle admitted it was a risky attempt by Barajas, no speed demon.
"Pure athleticism in its rarest form, from a guy who's been around the block a couple of times. I think that's called a swim move in football," Hurdle said. "It worked; obviously was a gamble, one I hope we don't take again anytime soon."
That was the first of two runs the Pirates got in that second inning to take a 3-0 lead. The Royals rebounded with two runs in the third as Yuniesky Betancourt's double and Mike Moustakas' single drove in the runs against left-hander Erik Bedard.
But the Pirates immediately upped their advantage to the final 4-2 with another assist from the Royals' defense in the bottom of the third.
Pedro Alvarez doubled to deep center with one out and Jose Tabata's high bouncer went over the mound where Luke Hochevar tried to make a barehanded grab. All he did, however, was deflect the ball away from charging shortstop Alcides Escobar to give Tabata a single and put runners at the corners.
"It was just reaction. That's a bad decision," Hochevar said.
Then Hochevar caught Tabata leaning off first base and stepped off the mound, trapping him, but things went awry.
"You're taught to stop him and then get rid of [the ball]," Yost said. "We didn't run it right."
The play unfolded in what seemed to Yost like slow motion, with Hochevar finally tossing to first baseman Billy Butler, normally the designated hitter. Butler chased Tabata and threw to second baseman Betancourt, who tagged out the runner. Alas, meantime Alvarez broke off third base and scored without a play.
"We messed up when Luke didn't get rid of the ball. He held onto the ball too long and let the play develop," Yost said. "Hopefully you give it to Escobar coming back [toward first base], the infielder with the strongest arm. Instead we took too long, gave it to Billy and the runner [Alvarez] started creeping and they had us where they wanted us."
Hurdle's take on the play: "At least Jose was able to stay engaged in the rundown long enough for Pedro to get his best read. It was the only option we had. If both teams had it to do over again, they'd like to do it better. We were able to steal a run."
And that theft was the last run of the game.
The Royals could do no more against Bedard, who went seven innings for the victory, or the Bucs' bullpen. Relievers Jason Grilli and Joel Hanrahan closed out the game with one perfect inning each.
Yost plans to keep using the same defensive alignment he's adopted for Interleague Play in NL cities.
"We have to, it's our best offensive lineup right now and we need to break out offensively a little bit, and we'll stay with it," he said.
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.