DETROIT — The Royals, in just eight days, have played their way from the cusp of long-sought contention to the brink of another late-summer stroll through oblivion.
That’s a bad eight days.
This was more of the same Saturday in an 8-7 loss to the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park – unless you choose to take heart in a ninth-inning comeback that ended one run short.
“You can’t wait until the last inning to get it done,” said Alex Gordon, whose leadoff walk ignited a three-run burst against Tigers closer José Valverde in a non-save situation.
“It was a good effort, but it’s asking a lot to score four runs in the ninth. It’s just one of those things. Right now, when we hit, we don’t pitch. When we pitch, we don’t hit. We need to figure that out.”
The Royals jumped early on struggling Doug Fister, but it didn’t matter because the Tigers mauled an ineffective Bruce Chen for five runs in the first two innings.
“I feel very bad because I didn’t pitch well,” said Chen, who allowed six runs and nine hits in just 3 1/3 innings. “I felt proud of my teammates. They made a real good comeback, but I gave up too many runs early in the game. That was the difference.”
Chen’s struggles put the Royals in a game of catch-up, and they never quite got there. That result was a seventh loss in nine games on an 11-game trip that ends today, when Everett Teaford seeks to prevent the Tigers from completing a three-game sweep.
Eight days ago, the Royals, after opening this season-long trip with a victory at Minnesota, were just four games under .500 – their closest point to break-even since a 12-game April skid dropped them to 3-14.
Now, they are 37-46 and a season-worst 9½ games behind first-place Chicago in the American League Central Division.
“We thought we had busted the door down,” third baseman Mike Moustakas said. “We thought we were right there, and we’re still right there. We’re still knocking. But we can’t knock anymore. Something’s got to happen so we can break out of this thing.
“It’s coming soon.”
It almost came in the ninth, when Detroit manager Jim Leyland summoned Valverde to protect an 8-4 lead. Valverde had worked 14 scoreless innings against the Royals in his last 14 appearances – but all of those were save situations.
Maybe that made a difference.
Anyway … Gordon led off with a walk and went to third on Alcides Escobar’s third hit of the game, a double. A walk to Eric Hosmer loaded the bases with no outs and brought the tying run to the plate.
Billy Butler’s looping single produced two runs and put the tying run on base in Jason Bourgeois, who replaced Butler as a pinch-runner. Yuniesky Betancourt’s fly to deep center lifted the bench in hopeful anticipation, but Austin Jackson ran it down.
“I knew it wasn’t out,” Betancourt said. “I hit it too high. I thought I had a chance for a double.”
Instead, it was just a long out that moved Hosmer to third while Bourgeois held first. Jackson then made another fine play by charging in to catch Moustakas’ soft, sinking liner.
“Off the bat,” Moustakas said, “I thought it was going to get down, but that guy is such a good center fielder.”
Hosmer scored on the sacrifice fly, which closed the gap to one. Bourgeois then stole second, but Valverde struck out Jeff Francoeur for the victory.
“You can take some positives from it,” Moustakas said. “We showed some resiliency, but it just wasn’t enough. At the end of the day, they’re on the other side with a W, and we’re over here.”
Fister entered the game at 1-6 after surrendering 15 runs and 17 hits over 8 1/3 innings in his two previous starts. And the Royals jumped him early by scoring two runs in the first inning on four singles.
Chen gave it right back.
Jackson opened the Detroit first by extending his career-best hitting streak to 14 games with a single left. After as sacrifice moved Jackson to second, Chen struck out Miguel Cabrera before Prince Fielder pulled a full-count offering for a two-run homer.
“I made good pitches to Cabrera,” Chen said, “but I fell behind on Prince. I left a fastball a little bit up, and he hit it out.”
The game got away from Chen (7-8) in a three-run second inning.
Jhonny Peralta served a one-out single into left and went to third when Ramon Santiago pulled a double past a diving Moustakas at third.
Gerald Laird’s soft liner to right center fell between Francoeur and Jarrod Dyson. One run scored as Laird turned the play into a hustle double – and another run scored after the ball got through Betancourt on a sweep-tag attempt at second.
The scorer assessed the error to Dyson.
Jackson made it 5-2 with an RBI single into center before Chen ended the inning.
“Bruce never got locked in today,” manager Ned Yost said. “He just never did.”
The Tigers went (fairly) quietly in the third before starting in again on Chen in the fourth. Santiago led off with a double along the left-field line before a walk and a single loaded the bases with no outs.
Chen struck out Quintin Berry before Yost went to the bullpen for Nate Adcock to face Cabrera, who hit a sacrifice fly – but the Royals ended the inning when Hosmer cut Francoeur’s throw and trapped Laird between for the final out.
Moustakas got one run back with a two-out homer in the fifth.
The Royals did sneak back to 6-4 on Betancourt’s sacrifice fly in the seventh after Fister (2-6) exited following a leadoff walk. But a relay of four relievers bridged the game to Valverde before the Royals stirred to life.
Detroit seemed to snuff any budding comeback when Delmon Young rocked a two-out, two-run homer in the seventh against Adcock after a Moustakas error extended the inning.
Turned out, that was the game-winner.