The indignities piled up, one after another, a ceaseless slew of embarrassments as the Royals withered beneath the weight of the Tigers in an 10-1 pummeling.
Six minutes into Friday’s game, played before a packed Kauffman Stadium under idyllic conditions, Kansas City’s Gold Glove left fielder made a game-altering mistake. Thirty-one minutes into the game, jeers cascaded from the stands of Kauffman Stadium and the bullpen phone rang — a pair of scenarios that would repeat ad infinitum all evening. Forty-four minutes into the game, the crowd gasped as their former Silver Slugger designated hitter wasted his team’s best offensive opportunity.
At the 71-minute mark, already down four runs, Jason Vargas hung his head as an RBI double sizzled down the third-base line. His night was over, his team’s hopes were sunk and the showdown Billy Butler called “the biggest series since 1985” ended with the home club face-planting in front of 37,945 fans.
“They whupped us,” manager Ned Yost said. “They beat us. They spanked us. Whatever you want to say.”
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All season long, as the two clubs dueled for first place in the American League Central, Detroit relied upon thrashings like this. They solidified their advantage and expanded it to 1 1/2 games with a little more than a week left in the season. Kansas City is now 5-12 against the Tigers in 2014. They reside in second place because they have not overcome their overlords, because when facing Detroit they turn in efforts like Friday’s.
“If we knew why, we would definitely do something about it,” said first baseman Eric Hosmer, part of a penitent chorus in the clubhouse.
“Give them credit,” said outfielder Alex Gordon. “They kicked our you-know-what tonight.”
“It’s disappointing for the fans,” Vargas said. “And they should be disappointed. They come out here to see us play a competitive game, and we didn’t do that from pitch one.”
The verbiage far outpaced the on-field output. Vargas offered up his briefest outing of the season, a five-run stumble that lasted 3 1/3 frames. Gordon misjudged a fly ball that started Vargas’ spiral. The offense let Justin Verlander off the hook early and then slumbered through the motions. And the bullpen duo of Casey Coleman and Louis Coleman, a pair of late-season call-ups, turned the game into a farce.
In the fifth inning, the two Colemans yielded a combined five runs and inspired resounding jeers from the crowd. The game became an embarrassment. Casey Coleman gave up four straight hits to start the inning. Louis Coleman fed Tigers second baseman Ian Kinsler a waist-high fastball, and Kinsler smacked a two-run homer. His was just one of 19 Detroit hits.
After five innings, Yost transformed his lineup into a white flag. He began to yank his starters from the field. The group elected to conserve their energy for this afternoon, when James Shields aims to even the series and restore his club’s credibility.
After 29 years of waiting, the night soured quickly. The connection to the past was deliberate. During pregame introductions, the center-field videoboard showed the 1985 World Series banner flapping in the gentle wind. Gridlock slowed traffic on Interstate 70 into the stadium. A packed house hollered and clapped team-distributed Thunderstix.
The optimism waned three batters into the game. After a lead-off single by Kinsler, Miguel Cabrera smoked a liner into left field. Kinsler sprinted off second base as the ball took flight, and would have been easily doubled off — if the unexpected had not transpired, when Gordon miscalculated the ball’s flight.
“I thought it was farther in, and just misread it,” Gordon said. “It went over my head. At that point, it was in the lights. I tried to put my glove up. I just misplayed it.”
The ball ticked off his glove and flew past him. Kinsler scored. Cabrera finished at second, in perfect position to round the bases on a well-placed single by Victor Martinez. Vargas allowed five hits in the first. Three were off changeups. The last flicked off the bat of rookie shortstop Eugenio Suarez and plated Victor Martinez.
The three-run deficit became four an inning later. Rajai Davis led off with a single. Vargas tried to spot an 88-mph fastball low and on the outside corner. Torii Hunter poked the ball over Nori Aoki’s head in right for an RBI double.
“It’s my responsibility as a starting pitcher to set the tone, to set the tempo of the game,” Vargas said. “What I did was exactly the opposite.”
Dumped in an early hole, the Royals found themselves in an unenviable position. In the first 16 games of September, they scored more than four runs only four times. A sequence in the bottom of the second exemplified their offensive struggles.
Salvador Perez swung late at a 2-0 slider from Verlander, but his blooper fell behind Cabrera at first base. Eric Hosmer yanked a double over Cabrera’s head to put two men in scoring position for Butler.
Few players in baseball possess a track record against Verlander like Butler does. He carried a .415 average to the plate. Perhaps the confidence backfired. Butler felt compelled to offer at a 3-0 pitch, a 94-mph fastball over the heart of the plate. Butler could not greet the ball time, and a lazy fly floated into right field, not even deep enough for Perez to tag up.
The rally fizzled and the ballpark sagged. It would only get worse.