DETROIT — In terms of entertainment value for mid-August, especially for the Royals after so many blah years, this five-game weekend series against first-place Detroit at Comerica Park is tough to beat.
Even Saturday’s 6-5 walk-off loss to the Tigers.
Miguel Cabrera sliced a 3-1 fastball from Aaron Crow over the right-field wall for a game-winning homer in the ninth inning after the Royals erased deficits of 3-0, 4-3 and 5-4.
“Every at-bat, every game, you want to do something good,” Cabrera said, “because I think people pay for that.”
Afterward, all the Royals could do was marvel.
“It’s unbelievable,” catcher Salvy Perez said. “He’s the best hitter in the league. We got behind in the count. That pitch was down and away, 96. I think he’s the only guy who can hit that ball like that.”
Joaquin Benoit (3-0) got the victory after pitching a scoreless ninth inning in which he stranded the go-ahead run at third base. Crow (7-4) was the loser. The series is tied 2-2 going into Sunday’s finale.
“It’s been a great series,” said second baseman Chris Getz, who had two of the Royals’ 14 hits. “This is what we expected. It’s certainly not shocking that we’ve split and are going for it (Sunday).”
Getz tried for a drag-bunt single with two outs in the top of the ninth against Benoit with Perez at third base, but he pulled it too much up the line. First baseman Prince Fielder made the pickup and tag for the out.
“If it’s a foot to the left,” Getz said, “anything closer toward second base, and it works.”
The Royals played catch-up all night after Detroit cuffed Wade Davis for two runs in the first inning and one more in the second. They pulled even on three occasions, but were four for 20 with runners in scoring position.
“We couldn’t get the lead,” manager Ned Yost said. “We kept battling back, and we had opportunities to get it. We just couldn’t capitalize on it.”
Crow replaced Kelvin Herrera to start the Detroit ninth and fell into a 3-1 hole before throwing a fastball that was middle down and away. Cabrera reached out and drove it over the right-field wall.
“You can’t fall behind anybody and expect to be successful,” Crow said. “I’ve just got to make better pitches earlier in the count...Not many guys can hit a ball like that the other way, but he’s a special player.”
The loss dropped the Royals to 64-58 and pushed them 7 1/2 games behind first-place Detroit. They also fell, temporarily, 5 1/2 games behind Oakland for the American League’s final wild-card spot.
This was a wild ride over 3 hours, 25 minutes in front of a sellout crowd of 41,850. It included a pivotal missed call that benefited the Royals and led to the ejection of Tigers manager Jim Leyland and catcher Brayan Pena.
That occurred in the fourth inning with the Tigers leading 3-2.
Getz led off with a single before Detroit starter Doug Fister bounced a pitch past Alcides Escobar. The ball skipped to the back wall but Pena, believing the ball caromed off Escobar’s bat, chose not to retrieve it.
Meanwhile, Getz raced to third. That brought a protest from Leyland and Pena, but the umpiring crew, after conferencing, ruled a wild pitch. Getz stayed at third.
“I didn’t know (it hit the bat),” Getz said. “That’s why I was so shocked that everyone stopped. He didn’t call time or anything. No one could tell on the field. So I don’t blame the umpires for getting it wrong.”
Replays confirmed they did get it wrong.
“When I saw Getzie going to third base,” Escobar said, “I didn’t know what to think. For the umpires, that’s hard to see that. They thought it hit off Brayan Pena.”
A moment later, presumably having seen that replay, Leyland returned to the field to continue the argument. That led to his ejection by first base umpire Bob Davidson, who later admitted he blew the call.
“That's really on me,” Davidson said, “because I should’ve seen the ball change direction.”
It got worse for the Tigers when Escobar broke a zero-for-17 skid by pulling a game-tying double into the left-field corner. An irate Pena resumed the argument, and he was ejected by home-plate umpire Mike Muchlinski.
After Bryan Holaday replaced Pena, Fister ended the inning without further damage. That enabled the Tigers to regain the lead, at 4-3, later in the fourth on Cabrera’s two-out RBI double.
Cabrera’s double finished Davis, who threw 93 pitches in 3 2/3 innings while allowing eight hits and two walks. Will Smith ended the inning by striking out Fielder.
The Royals pulled even in the seventh on a Perez homer shortly after Drew Smyly replaced Fister, but Fielder cranked a one-out homer against Smith in the bottom of the inning.
That meant the Royals trailed 5-4 when Emilio Bonifacio opened the eighth inning with a single up the middle against Jose Veras.
Bonifacio stole second and went to third on a throwing error by Holaday. Getz then served a game-tying single into center field before racing to third on Escobar’s hit-and-run single.
After Escobar stole second, the Tigers shortened their infield — and caught a break when David Lough hit a pop that Cabrera caught near the plate after charging in from third base.
That prompted an intentional walk to Eric Hosmer to load the bases with one out for Billy Butler, who lined out to Cabrera. The Royals left the bases loaded when Alex Gordon grounded out to first.
It stayed 5-5 until Cabrera’s walk-off.