So much for drama.
By BOB DUTTON
The Kansas City Star
Sure, it was almost certain to happen at some point this week — the Detroit Tigers celebrating a division title at Kauffman Stadium. They came into this season-ending, three-game series with a three-game lead over second place Chicago.
It happened Monday, with a huge assist from the Royals in a 6-3 victory.
David Lough’s muff on a two-out fly to center in the sixth inning led to four unearned runs. It turned a 2-0 lead into a 6-0 cushion, and the Tigers rolled from there. Chicago’s 11-0 victory at Cleveland became a footnote.
“I just turned the wrong way,” Lough said, “and when I turned back, the ball was dying. It just dropped like a knuckleball. I had it in my glove. It just popped out. It cost us some runs. I feel terrible.”
The end came when Detroit closer José Valverde retired Alcides Escobar on a grounder to short. That ignited a fairly tame on-field celebration that carried into the clubhouse.
“You’ve got to take your hats off to them,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “They had a great year and won the division. They’ve got starting pitching. They’ve got power. They’ve got a good bullpen. So I imagine they’ve got a chance to go pretty deep.”
The Tigers should send a few bottles of champagne across the hall. The Royals went 12-6 this season against the White Sox but have just four victories in 16 games (with two remaining) against the Tigers.
While Lough’s error was decisive, Detroit amassed 14 hits, including four by Miguel Cabrera who, for the first time, has the undisputed lead in all three Triple Crown categories with 44 homers, 137 RBIs and a .329 average.
Cabrera’s homer ignited the five-run sixth inning against Royals starter Bruce Chen.
Cabrera’s blast was a one-out dart into the right-field bullpen.
“I feel he was looking for that pitch the whole night,” Chen said. “I pitched differently to him three times. Then he got the pitch that he wanted, and he didn’t miss. He’s a very good hitter. I jammed him one time, and he got a base hit.”
Chen finished the season 11-14 after giving up six runs in 52/3 innings. Only two runs were earned.
“We just couldn’t stop the bleeding,” Chen said. “They’re the American League Central champions … they have good pitching and a good lineup. They got hot, and they got hot at a good time. Kudos to them. They’ve played very well.”
The Tigers knew early that they probably needed a victory to clinch the division crown because Chicago, playing an hour earlier in Cleveland, jumped out to a big lead.
Detroit starter Rick Porcello, 10-12, worked five scoreless innings but, even with a 6-0 lead, departed after surrendering Alex Gordon’s leadoff homer in the sixth inning.
Al Albuquerque, Octavio Dotel, Joaquin Benoit and Valverde closed out the victory. Valverde got his 35th save in 40 chances.
The Royals had chances to mount comebacks in the sixth and eighth innings, but Jeff Francoeur misfired twice in key situations.
First, he grounded into a run-scoring double play with the bases loaded and no outs in the sixth against Albuquerque. Francoeur then tried to stretch an RBI single into a double with two outs in the eighth against Benoit after Salvy Perez already reached.
Center fielder Austin Jackson threw out Francoeur at second.
“Stupid play,” Francoeur said. “I know better than that, especially with a chance for the tying run (to come to the plate). … Maybe that’s something you try in the third or fourth inning but not the eighth.”
The Royals went quietly in the ninth against Valverde, which left them with eight losses in their last nine games. At 71-89, they still need one more victory to surpass last year’s total.