KANSAS CITY -- "It only took four pitches."
Those were the words of Ernesto Frieri not long after a stunning turn of events led to a 3-2 Angels loss to the Royals on Saturday night at Kauffman Stadium.
A dominating performance by starter Zack Greinke had the Angels two outs away from taking the second game of the series, but Greinke was lifted in favor of Frieri with the Angels leading, 2-0, and a runner on first base.
Frieri's first pitch was hit 423 feet to straightaway center field by Royals designated hitter Billy Butler, and in the blink of an eye, the game was tied. Then, just three pitches later, catcher Salvador Perez launched a home run off the left-field foul pole to give the Royals a stunning walk-off victory.
Despite the loss, the Angels remained 2 1/2 games behind the Orioles -- who dropped a 5-2 decision to the A's on Saturday -- for the second American League Wild Card spot.
"I don't try to understand this game. It's crazy," Frieri said. "Even when you do bad, I keep saying it's the best sport in the world. You never know what's going to happen. I feel bad because Greinke pitched a great game. He went 8 1/3 strong innings. It only took four pitches to get the loss. That's what happened. I've never tried to understand the game. I just go out there and do my best, and I wasn't lucky today. I got the loss. We lost a really important game. Just need to come back tomorrow and try to win the series.
"It only took four pitches. First pitch was a homer. Second pitch foul ball, then a ball, and then next pitch a homer. Game over. Four pitches."
It was Frieri's third blown save of the season and his first since Aug. 23 against the Red Sox. He ended up winning that game, but wasn't as lucky this time in taking his first loss of the year.
"I told Sal on deck, [Frieri's] predominantly [a fastball pitcher] and we've got to go up there and not be late," Butler said. "And neither one of us were late."
Angels catcher Chris Iannetta said his calls were based on Frieri's strength: the fastball.
"He's a fastball-dominant pitcher. That's his game, that's been his success this whole time," Iannetta said. "You've seen it from day one. I don't think it's a secret to anybody. I went with his strength. He tried to throw a fastball down and away to Butler [and it] ended up being a little right-middle, over the plate. Then, same thing with Perez. We wanted to try to go down and away. The pitch was up and in, off the plate.
"There's no clear-cut answer to what you do. You stick with his strength. He throws 98 percent, 99 percent fastballs. Up until the last two weeks, he was probably almost 100 percent fastballs. That's just his game."
The terrific outing by Greinke was spoiled so quickly, it was as if Usain Bolt was engineering the Royals' comeback.
"It's part of baseball," Greinke said. "Ernie's got a great fastball. Billy's a good fastball hitter. ... He threw the best pitch to both those guys, and it just didn't work out."
Greinke made his second start of the season as a visitor at Kauffman Stadium, and against his former mates he turned in a gem reminiscent of his Cy Young Award-winning campaign in 2009. The righty allowed just one run -- Alex Gordon singled with one out and crossed on the Butler home run -- on five hits and two walks.
"I thought Zack really pitched well," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "Starting off, he had first and third and managed to get out of the first. And then he changed speeds a lot. When he needed his fastball, he had it. And he got it to a great point in the game, and we just couldn't close it out."
Scioscia said that Greinke's pitch count was getting too high to leave him in the game.
"It came to that point in the game and where Zack was coming out of his last start, we wanted to give them a different look. Obviously, it didn't work out," Scioscia said. "Zack was getting to 110 [he finished at 109], and if it's a long at-bat, he's getting into a pitch count that's probably going to be a little bit uncomfortable."
"I'm not going to second-guess," Greinke said, crediting his manager with making the right move. "I think he's the best manager in baseball, at least from the outside looking in and so far being here. He's smarter than me."
Greinke saw his four-game winning streak snapped with a no-decision. But, for the fifth consecutive start, he went at least seven innings and allowed fewer than three runs. In his last five starts, Greinke is 4-0 with a 1.70 ERA.
The Angels built a 2-0 lead thanks to a fifth-inning solo home run from Kendrys Morales, his second homer in as many nights, and an eighth-inning RBI single by Torii Hunter that bounced in and out of the glove of right fielder Jeff Francoeur.
Royals starter Jeremy Guthrie was also strong, allowing just two runs in eight innings.
Sunday's rubber game will also decide the season series between the two clubs, tied at 4.
"Any time you lose a game late, it's a heavier page to turn, but we've got a ballgame [Sunday and] we've got to come out and win," Scioscia said. "We're at the time of the year where momentum can change inning to inning, pitch to pitch. We've got to get back on that horse, come out here and play a good game, and play well enough to win."
Vinnie Duber is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.