TORONTO -- If his bullpen hadn't been so overworked, Blue Jays manager John Farrell might have employed a different strategy.
In a critical spot in the contest, Farrell chose to stay away from his trusted late-inning men -- Darren Oliver and Jason Frasor -- because they had pitched in back-to-back games heading into Thursday's finale. Instead, Farrell turned to Francisco Cordero, who struggled for the second time in as many appearances.
Cordero allowed three runs in the eighth to put the game out of reach after the Blue Jays clawed back from a five-run deficit, only to lose, 9-6, to the Royals at Rogers Centre.
"He had bad luck today," Blue Jays catcher J.P. Arencibia said of Cordero. "He made great pitches, he executed the pitches he wanted to.
"Unfortunately in this game, sometimes the box score doesn't show how you pitch. It's tough because you feel bad ... but he'll be out of it. He has been around this game for a long time, the guy can pitch. Everyone has a bad stretch."
In his last appearance, Cordero surrendered three runs -- including two homers -- in the eighth inning of a tie game with the Angels, which prevented the Blue Jays from taking three out of four in that series.
On Thursday, although the runs came differently, the results were similar.
Cordero entered with the Royals up, 5-3, and by the time he was done, the score was 8-3. The veteran right-hander surrendered three consecutive singles to start the eighth inning before Jarrod Dyson grounded into a forceout with the bases loaded.
An Alex Gordon single to right cashed one to make it 6-3, before Cordero suffered a mental cramp that cost the Blue Jays even further.
Kelly Johnson fielded an Eric Hosmer grounder that pulled first baseman Edwin Encarnacion off the bag. Cordero, who should have been there to cover, was late, which allowed Hosmer to reach base, while two runs came around to score to stretch the Royals' lead to 8-3.
"Coco's [Cordero] well aware of it," Farrell said about him being late covering. "He's a stand-up guy, he's trying to get the most out of the stuff he has currently and yet a couple of seeing-eye base hits, broken bat base hit, but the lapse at that point is a key moment in the game."
The Blue Jays rallied to score three in the bottom half of the frame, highlighted by a pinch-hit two-run triple from Ben Francisco, but weren't unable to come all the way back -- something they were forced to do the entire game.
"This is a club, though, that's going to give you a wild ride, because they're all aggressive guys that take hacks at the ball -- no lead is safe in this ballpark, really," Royals manager Ned Yost said.
Toronto starter Henderson Alvarez looked sharp early on, retiring the first seven batters of the game -- including three of the first four on strikeouts -- but things took a turn for the worse after he retired Jeff Francoeur to start the third inning.
Starting with Salvador Perez, who extended his career-best hitting streak to 11 games, seven consecutive Royals reached base off Alvarez in the inning, five of which came around to score. After facing the minimum six batters through two innings, Alvarez faced 10 in the third alone, and headed back to the dugout in a 5-0 hole after surrendering five hits, two walks and a sacrifice fly in the frame. He needed 41 pitches to get out of the inning.
"I feel like in the third inning, I was throwing my ball and pulling my left shoulder to first base and getting a little open, and the pitches weren't moving as good," Alvarez said.
The Blue Jays' offense, however, was able to pick him up in the bottom half of the inning.
After Johnson led off the frame with a double to right field off Royals starter Luke Hochevar, Arencibia worked the count full before blasting an upper-deck homer to left, his 12th of the year, to cut the Royals' lead to 5-2.
Alvarez escaped some trouble in the fourth, and then retired five straight before he was removed for Luis Perez after surrendering a one-out single in the sixth. The 22-year-old Alvarez, who fell to 5-7 on the year, lasted 5 1/3 innings, allowing five runs on eight hits, while walking two and matching a season high with four strikeouts.
"He has unbelievable stuff, but maybe it just gets away from him a bit, but he did a good job," Arencibia said of Alvarez.
Alvarez threw first-pitch strikes to 19 of the 26 batters he faced and recorded double-digit groundouts for the 16th time in 17 starts this season.
Hochevar, meanwhile, went five innings, and was charged with both runs. The right-hander walked one and struck out three to improve to 6-8. Hochevar was unable to come out for the sixth after spraining his right ankle the previous inning.
Arencibia added another home run in the seventh off Royals reliever Tim Collins -- his third multi-homer game of the season -- to cut the deficit to 5-3.
"We got a team that can swing it," Arencibia said. "It's weird when one day, one guy isn't having the best game, another guy picks it up -- one through nine it's like that."
Sam Dyson made his Major League debut for Toronto in the seventh inning and faced two batters, walking one and striking out one.
The Blue Jays split the four-game set with the Royals, and took six of eight against Kansas City overall this year -- Toronto's first season series win against the Royals since 2008.
"We've got to continue to execute consistently from the mound," Farrell said. "We can't rely on the fact that offensively we're going to put up six-to-eight-to-10 runs a game, and we've got to set the tone from the mound from the starters."
Chris Toman is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.