DETROIT — Want to second-guess manager Ned Yost for choosing to stick with Jeremy Guthrie in the eighth inning of Sunday’s 3-2 loss to Detroit, which dealt a blow to the Royals’ dogged postseason hopes?
Yost is right there with you.
“I thought (Guthrie) could get us through the inning,” Yost said. “At that point, he had pitched himself out of some big jams, and I thought he had really got settled in.
“I thought he could get us through the bottom of the order, but I pushed him too far...Hindsight is 20-20, and there will be a lot of that. I just thought (Guthrie) had enough to get us to the ninth.”
Disagree, Royals fans?
Welcome to the daily debates fostered by meaningful September games.
The Royals were overmatched for seven innings by Detroit starter Max Scherzer but had a chance to steal a victory after pulling even in the top of the eighth when reliever Drew Smyly threw a run-scoring wild pitch.
That opportunity slipped away in the bottom of the inning when Guthrie, who spent the day dodging trouble, served up Alex Avila’s second homer of the game on a one-out drive to right field.
“That was a slider that didn’t have any depth,” Guthrie said. “It didn’t get to where I was trying to get it. He puts a good swing on pitches in the zone like that.”
This was the emotional flip side to Saturday’s heart-pounding 1-0 victory, when the Royals recorded the game’s final out at the plate on a blind catch and tag by catcher Salvy Perez.
“Every loss is tough right now,” left fielder Alex Gordon said. “We had plenty of chances to win, and Guthrie pitched a heck of a game. He gave up two long balls. That was pretty much it.
“At the end of the day, he pitched well enough to win the game. Our offense didn’t do what we need to do.”
The loss dropped the Royals to 78-71, although they remained 3 1/2 games behind Texas for the American League’s final wild-card berth with 13 games remaining.
Avila’s first homer was a two-run drive in the second inning that staked Scherzer to a 2-0 lead and sent the Royals on a whiff-filled afternoon trying to pull even.
Scherzer was magnificent in striking out 12 over seven innings while limiting the Royals to one run: Gordon’s leadoff homer in the fourth inning.
“You guys saw it all day,” Gordon said. “Twelve strikeouts. With him, you just kind of hope for a pitch to hit. If he gives you one, you’d better go get it because he really has good location this year.
“That’s what I got — 2-0, I just got a pitch to hit. I didn’t miss it. I was leading off the inning, so he was probably trying to come after me.”
Scherzer’s 12 strikeouts were the most against the Royals since Javier Vasquez of the White Sox had 13 on Sept. 17, 2007. The previous high this season by an opponent was 10 last Monday by Cleveland’s Ubaldo Jimenez.
But those strikeouts goosed Scherzer’s pitch count to 116 by the end of the seventh inning after he escaped a second-and-third jam with one out. The Tigers summoned Smyly to start the eighth.
And then, with Scherzer gone, the Royals pulled even.
Alcides Escobar led off with a double and, with two outs, stole third before scoring the tying run on a wild pitch on a controversial play.
Avila blocked the ball by shifting to the third-base side of the plate, but the ball caromed toward the first-base side. Avila bumped into Eric Hosmer while trying to retrieve the ball.
“He just ran right into me,” Hosmer said. “Obviously, it wasn’t intentional or anything like that. I’m not even sure what you’re supposed to do in that situation.”
Escobar got a great jump because Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera was shaded toward shortstop. Escobar scored standing up and without a throw.
“I told myself, ‘Any ball that hops, I’m going,’” Escobar said. “‘If they get me out at home plate, they get me out.’ When I saw the ball hit (off Avila and) bounce toward the first-base side...boom. I went.’
The Tigers asked for an interference call, but the run stood. That snatched a victory away from Scherzer and positioned the game for a battle between the two bullpens.
Only Yost, armed with what he and others often cite as the league’s best bullpen, chose to stick with Guthrie, who had yielded 12 hits over the first seven innings but, somehow, held the damage to Avila’s first homer.
“The way he had pitched,” Yost said, “I just felt real strongly that he could get us to the ninth, turn it over to the pen in a tie game and give him a chance to win the game.”
For his part, Guthrie, 14-11, insisted he wasn’t fatigued after stranding 10 runners through the first seven innings. The Tigers were also hitless in nine opportunities with runners in scoring position.
“I felt very confident,” he said, “going back out there in the eighth.”
It just didn’t work out.
“Guthrie was pitching a great game,” Avila said, “and I just happened to get a hanging slider.”
Avila’s homer enabled Smyly, 6-0, to vulture the victory after blowing a save when Joaquin Benoit worked a brisk ninth inning. Benoit got his 20th save in 20 chances.
Scherzer minimized the disappointment at failing for a fourth time (two losses, two no-decisions) to get his 20th victory.
“We’re just looking to win the game,” he said. “I don’t care if I win another game, if we win our division, that's all that matters.”
Detroit holds a 5 1/2-game lead over second-place Cleveland, pending the outcome of the Indians’ rain-delayed game in Chicago, in the American League Central Division. The Royals are eight games back in third place.
“This one hurts, definitely,” Hosmer said, “especially after coming back and tying it. They just answered. Avila had a great day over there. He had two big swings for them today.”