KANSAS CITY, Mo. — On the final day of last July, the Detroit Tigers executed a trade that stunned the baseball industry and deflated their American League Central rivals in Kansas City.
As part of a complicated, three-team trade with Seattle and Tampa Bay, the Tigers added Rays ace David Price to a rotation constellation that already featured Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander. The Royals had engaged in preliminary discussions with Tampa Bay about Price and shied away due to financial considerations — only to see him land in their own division.
“It just means,” Alex Gordon said that afternoon, “we’ve got to beat one more Cy Young winner in that rotation.”
Attrition has reduced Detroit’s trio down to one. The Washington Nationals netted Scherzer in free agency. Verlander resides on the disabled list because of a triceps strain. Yet Price remains, left-handed and imperious, and he dominated Kansas City in a 2-1 defeat on Saturday night at Kauffman Stadium.
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Price slowed a rolling Royals team that captured the first two games of this series. Price kept his hosts off-balance and off the base paths. He negated a useful performance from Royals starter Edinson Volquez, who is 2-3 with a 2.10 ERA after allowing two runs across six innings.
“I think he was better than me,” Volquez said. “He pitched a good game.”
Lorenzo Cain kept his club alive with a solo homer in the bottom of the ninth, but Price stayed stalwart in the face of adversity. The Royals could not create any momentum after Cain proved Price’s mortality.
In the final inning, Price faced the top of the Royals batting order for the fourth time. Gordon lifted a soft fly that third baseman Andrew Romine tracked down in shallow left field. Mike Moustakas failed to check his swing, and Price gobbled up a grounder. Cain set the crowd ablaze when his homer cleared the bullpen in left field, but Eric Hosmer flailed at a 95-mph fastball for the final out.
“He moved the ball in and out,” manager Ned Yost said. “Really good changeup. Good breaking ball.”
So complete was Price’s mastery of the Royals that their only scoring chance before the ninth evolved from his own fielding error. With one out in the sixth and a runner at first, Price flubbed Gordon’s comebacker. To the plate came Moustakas. A sellout crowd of 38,692 greeted him with overlapping chants, a combination of “Let’s Go Royals” with an undercurrent of the guttural pronunciation of his nickname.
Price remained surgical. He stuffed a fastball inside for a strike and let Moustakas foul off another. Price returned to the inner half for the rally-squashing blow, a 96-mph heater on the hands. Moustakas hit a grounder to third baseman Nick Castellanos, who stepped on the bag for one out and threw across the diamond for another.
The throw was close, and the Royals considered a review. First-base coach Rusty Kuntz told Moustakas to wait at the bag. Manager Ned Yost turned into the dugout as bench coach Don Wakamatsu conferred with replay coordinator Bill Duplissea. Then Yost waved his hands — the call was right — and his players trudged off the diamond.
Volquez returned after serving a five-game suspension. The penalty stemmed from the wild, errant swing he took at White Sox pitcher Jeff Samardzija in last month’s melee at U.S. Cellular Field. He was the club’s most reliable starter in April, with a 1.91 ERA and a stellar 4.60 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Volquez looked to extend an encouraging run of pitching by the Royals. In the previous 18 innings, the Royals staff pacified the daunting Tigers lineup and held them to a pair of runs.
Detroit claimed their first lead of the series in the third inning. Rajai Davis opened the frame with a walk, the second of the game issued by Volquez. Anthony Gose ripped a single. Gose played a critical role in what followed: Ian Kinsler hit a grounder to second baseman Omar Infante, who fed Christian Colon to turn a double play.
A concussion to Alcides Escobar forced Colon into the lineup. He specializes as a second baseman, having converted after spending his career at Cal-State Fullerton as a shortstop. Gose executed a takeout slide, with his body veering toward Colon’s feet. Colon jumped to avoid Gose, but uncorked a wild throw that clicked off the Royals’ dugout. Davis sprinted home for Detroit’s first run.
“The ball got away from me right there,” Colon said. “Looking back on it, I wish I just would have ate the ball. Just kept it with me. Tried to be aggressive and make a play. Just one of those things that I wish I could do it all over again if I could.”
Gose vexed Volquez again in the fifth. Volquez jammed Gose with a 2-2 sinker. The ball floated into left field. Alex Gordon dove, only to see the ball splash in front of him. Gose raced into second and scored when Kinsler smashed a one-out single into center field.
“It was a good game for them,” Volquez said. “Better than us. We’ll come back (today).”