DETROIT | All losses aren’t the same. They just aren’t. Ask any Royals fan. They know there are losses, bad losses, and then there are absolute fiascos. They are easy to quantify and differentiate after the last 15 years.
And, yes, this was a fiasco, absolutely and without question, on Tuesday afternoon when the Royals squandered a five-run lead in a 6-5 loss to the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park.
Six brilliant innings from Brian Bannister and plenty of offense — 13 hits — all went in the trash when the bullpen imploded in a six-run seventh inning when asked to bridge a seemingly safe lead from Bannister to closer Joakim Soria.
The Royals never got close to Soria.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” manager Trey Hillman said. “It’s definitely the most pitchers I’ve ever used in one inning. It’s disheartening, disappointing; it’s unbelievable. You can use a lot of words for that inning.”
Owner David Glass watched it all from a first-row seat behind the Royals’ dugout. So he knows, first-hand, how bad this was. The question is what happens now? This bullpen has allowed 23 earned runs in 26 innings with four blown saves in five opportunities.
The Royals are 3-5 when they easily could be 6-2.
“I’ll tell you what,” Hillman said, “somebody has to step up. If somebody doesn’t step up, we’re going to be in a lot of trouble The bullpen has factored into every game. And unfortunately, it’s factored in negatively a lot more than it’s factored in positively.”
Let’s set the stage:
Bannister worked the first five innings in just 60 pitches while allowing two singles and one walk. Another 18 pitches got him through the sixth before danger signs surfaced.
“It’s cold out there,” Bannister said, “and, usually, about the sixth or the seventh, you start to feel it. You get a cold sweat going. Trey and I had discussed that if he saw me start to struggle with my control, he was going to take me out.”
That happened with one out in the seventh. A four-pitch walk to Brandon Inge preceded two more balls to Gerald Laird, who then ripped an RBI double to deep center on Bannister’s 93rd pitch.
Out came Hillman, off went Bannister and cue the carnage.
First, Roman Colón quickly made things worse by surrendering RBI doubles to rookies Scott Sizemore and Austin Jackson sandwiched around Ramon Santiago’s foul-out to third.
Colón was the club’s best setup reliever in spring training, but he has now allowed four runs on five hits and two walks in two innings over five appearances. That doesn’t count allowing all three inherited runners to score.
“I just went out there trying to throw strikes,” he said. “The guys got the barrel on it. What can I do? We’re trying to figure it out. That’s all I’ve got to say. You’ve got to find a way to get through that situation.”
It got no better when Dusty Hughes replaced Colón with two outs and Jackson on second. An infield single by Johnny Damon moved Jackson to third and put the tying run on first. A walk to Magglio Ordoñez loaded the bases and prompted another change.
“It’s 5-3 with the tying runs on base,” Hughes said. “You’ve got to (throw strikes). Walking him is not giving up a run, but it makes things worse in the end. You can’t walk guys when you come into the game in a big situation.”
By now the water was neck deep and rising.
Juan Cruz replaced Hughes and immediately forced in a run by issuing a four-pitch walk to Miguel Cabrera that trimmed the lead to 5-4.
Carlos Guillen then yanked a first-pitch fastball into the right-field corner for a two-run double. The Tigers led 6-5, and that’s how it ended when Ryan Perry and José Valverde blanked the Royals in the eighth and ninth.
Joel Zumaya, 2-0, got the victory despite allowing a run and three hits in his two innings. Hughes, 0-1, got the loss. Valverde collected his second save.
Is that a fiasco?
“All losses are bad,” catcher Jason Kendall said. “They all suck.”
The rally took Detroit starter Dontrelle Willis off the hook. He allowed four runs and nine hits in five innings and, really, it could have been worse. The Royals left eight runners in those five innings.
It was all Royals until the seventh.
David DeJesus ignited a three-run third inning with a leadoff homer. Alberto Callaspo contributed a two-run single with two outs. José Guillen’s leadoff homer in the fifth added another run.
The Royals pushed their lead to 5-0 in the seventh against Zumaya. Rick Ankiel led off with a single, went to second on a one-out infield single by Kendall before scoring on Yuniesky Betancourt’s two-out single.
It looked like plenty with Bannister rolling along.
“I was hoping he pitches us all the way to Jack,” Hillman said, referring to Soria. “But you can’t very well put Jack in there for 21/3 (innings). That’s a situation that has to get better.”