The damage consisted of 10 batters, eight hits and six runs when manager Ned Yost climbed the steps of the Royals’ dugout. A convergence of imprecise pitching, shoddy defense and a few instances of poor fortune undid starter Jeremy Guthrie in the third inning of a 9-5 loss to Detroit.
The Tigers, the reigning kings of the American League Central for the last three seasons, delivered a stinging rebuke to their upstart rivals in the first game of this three-day series. The outcome sliced the Royals’ division lead to a single game and reminded why this club’s path to October is far from guaranteed. Detroit can roar back into the Central lead with two more victories here.
The third inning spoiled the remains of the day, and allowed Justin Verlander, the battered Tigers ace, to last for seven innings. Guthrie opened the door for Detroit due to the inexact location of his pitches. His defense failed to make plays both spectacular (Eric Hosmer’s unsuccessful diving stop on an RBI single by Victor Martinez) and routine (the inability to turn a double play against outfielder J.D. Martinez).
Granted an opening after Victor Martinez reached first, Detroit walloped Guthrie with a succession of doubles. Most of the hits were well-placed, and not particularly well-struck. But they still counted — such is life for a pitcher who does not rack up strikeouts and banks on his defense.
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“It’s tough to watch, because they were just hitting singles and whatnot,” outfielder Lorenzo Cain said. “It’s a good team. They swing the bats really well, one through nine.”
The Royals, 79-63, staged a pair of futile rallies.
Hosmer scored in the seventh after his first triple of the season, and Cain roped the franchise’s first inside-the-park homer since David DeJesus on April 23, 2010.
An RBI single by Hosmer brought the tying run to the plate in the eighth, but Billy Butler grounded out to second base and extinguished the threat. The hill proved too steep to climb.
Guthrie was succinct in his analysis of the game.
Asked what went wrong, he said, “Too many hits allowed in the third inning.” Asked the cause of all the hits, he said, “Probably too many hittable pitches. That would be my guess.”
Guthrie, 10-11, allowed eight runs, more than he ever had before in 75 starts for the Royals. Six of those runs were earned. He lasted only 2 2/3 innings, his briefest appearance since a June 21, 2003, start against the White Sox.
“I think it’s a bad day,” catcher Salvador Perez said. “Just a bad day.”
The timing was unfortunate. Monday marked the first time this season the Royals opened a series against the Tigers in first place. The two clubs square off five more times this season.
“If we take care of our business, then it doesn’t matter,” Yost said. “We’re in the driver’s seat right now. My mind-set is not keeping them at bay. My mind-set is ‘Win this game tonight.’ That’s all I think about.”
The club sounded boisterous before the game. On one side of the room, Butler and Jarrod Dyson traded their typical flurry of barbs, as rookie Lane Adams lamented his locker placement between the duo.
On the other side, a few pitchers listened as Scott Downs read from a newspaper. A column in the Detroit Free Press referred to the Royals as “a cute little team,” and Downs scoffed as he read the line “It’s about time for them to fall apart.”
The Tigers struck a blow in the second inning — or, perhaps, the Royals just stumbled into a punch.
Detroit seized the lead thanks to a pair of errors by Hosmer. Guthrie created the mess by allowing two singles and issuing a two-out walk to No. 8 hitter Alex Avila. But he did make Austin Romine chop a routine grounder toward first base.
Hosmer ranged to his right, nearly into the territory belonging to second baseman Omar Infante. The baseball skipped off the heel of Hosmer’s glove. The first error was worth one run. The second score occurred when Hosmer tried to shovel the ball to Guthrie. The throw resembled an option quarterback pitching the ball to his tailback, and it rolled all the way to the Royals’ dugout.
“I just flat-out missed it,” Hosmer said. “I tried to come through and flip it to Guthrie. Just flat-out missed it. There’s no excuses for it. It put him in a big hole.”
The Royals evened the score in the top of the third. Nori Aoki dunked a single into center field. Cain nearly ran up Mike Moustakas’ back at third base, but they both touched home safely.
Then the bottom fell out.
“It was going quickly,” Guthrie said. “I didn’t throw that many pitches. They just kept hitting the ball. It started from the first hitter.”
The first drop in the deluge was an infield single by Torii Hunter. Alcides Escobar dug the ball out of the hole, but threw wide of the bag. Hosmer’s tag missed Hunter by an inch. The Tigers soon took a mile.
After Miguel Cabrera singled to left, Hosmer dived to his right to snag a sizzling grounder smashed by Victor Martinez. Hosmer knocked the ball down, but he could not corral it. A run scored on the infield hit.
The next play had more dire consequences. J.D. Martinez rolled a cutter to Escobar, who fed Infante for the first out. Infante had sat out last week due to inflammation in his right shoulder. Yost offered praise for his subsequent throw, saying “that wasn’t a floater over there,” but Martinez beat the ball to the bag.
From there, Guthrie could neither catch a break nor miss a bat. Don Kelly flicked a RBI double just inside the right-field line. With two runners in scoring position, Yost pulled in the infield. Moustakas wasn’t in position to stop a bouncing grounder off Nick Castellanos’ bat. Two more runs scored. Avila followed with an RBI double of his own.
By then, five runs had scored. Still Guthrie suffered through more indignities. After singles by Romine and Hunter swelled Detroit’s lead to six, Yost emerged from the dugout. The game wasn’t even halfway over. The outcome was not in doubt.
“We tried to match them, swing the bats as well as they were tonight,” Cain said. “Fell short. Just got to bounce back.”