- Associated Press - Thursday, August 14, 2014

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - After a spotless stretch for 18 days earlier this month, the Oakland Athletics bullpen is struggling a bit.

Starter Jeff Samardzija left with a one-run lead in the seventh inning, but Ryan Cook failed to hold it in a 7-3 loss to the Kansas City Royals on Thursday.

Cook allowed two inherited runners to score and three of his own without retiring a batter. Cook’s streak of 21 consecutive scoreless innings came to an abrupt halt.

“I have all the faith in the world in those guys,” Samardzija said. “The best thing is to stay out of these situations altogether and go out and get them 1-2-3.”

The A’s relievers set a club record with a 29 2-3 scoreless innings streak from July 23-Aug. 9. But in the past six games, the bullpen has allowed 10 runs in 12 1-3 innings.

“Our bullpen is the best in baseball I really believe that,” said Stephen Vogt, who had three hits and scored a run.

“They have given us so many great innings. To have one hiccup, I’m not worrying about it. We have all the confidence in our bullpen.”

Nori Aoki and Billy Butler each drove in two runs in a five-run seventh as the Royals have won 18 of 22 to move 12 games above .500 for the first time since July 20, 2003.

The Royals took the season series, winning five of seven against the Athletics, who have the best record in the majors.

The A’s could face the Royals, who lead the AL Central, in the playoffs.

“I don’t think there is a playoff team that anybody wants to face,” Vogt said. “There are about eight teams that nobody wants to face in October and some of them are new teams. These guys (Royals) are one of them.”

Aoki’s two-run triple put the Royals ahead 5-3. Butler’s single scored Aoki and Alcides Escobar. Jarrod Dyson fouled off four consecutive pitches before hitting an RBI single to right for the first run of the inning.

Samardzija (3-2) took the loss, giving up four runs, three earned, and eight hits in 6 2-3 innings.

Aaron Crow (6-1), the third of six Kansas City pitchers, picked up the victory, retiring the only batter he faced.

Starter James Shields gave up three runs and seven hits in six innings and has a 1.94 ERA in his past eight starts. Greg Holland earned the final two outs for his 36th save in 38 opportunities.

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