There’s no sugar-coating it. Friday’s 16-2 loss to the Detroit Tigers was a complete fiasco for the Royals. It was, easily, their worst loss of the year, and it couldn’t have come at a more inopportune time.
They had their ace, James Shields, on the mound, and were playing in front of a sizable home crowd and commencing a crucial stretch in their postseason push: 15 straight games against opponents with better records.
So, yes, awful.
Shields, 10-9, matched career worsts by yielding 10 runs (fourth time) and 14 hits (second time), and he did it in just 32/3 innings. This is the guy, remember, who leads the American League in quality starts.
“Obviously, we’ve got to move forward,” he said, “but that was a terrible job by me. It was one of those nights. They were finding holes everywhere they hit the ball. You’ve got to tip your cap and move on.”
It gets worse.
Two of the three teams immediately ahead of the Royals in the American League wild-card chase — Baltimore and Cleveland — won. (New York lost.) The team they’re all chasing, Tampa Bay, played late Friday in Seattle.
The Royals, 73-68, fell five games behind the Rays, pending the outcome of that late game, with 21 games to go.
“We got pounded today, pretty bad,” left fielder Alex Gordon said. “A loss is a loss. That’s the way you’ve got to look at it. Turn the page. We’ve got (Justin) Verlander (on Saturday). Let’s go.”
It’s worth noting, but small comfort, that Detroit, the reigning AL champions, suffered a 20-4 loss at Boston in their previous game. Or that this loss is easier to shrug off than some recent one- and two-run setbacks.
Make no mistake, though; this was dreadful.
The Tigers rocked their way to 26 hits, including five each by Omar Infante and Andy Dirks. Infante also drove in six runs, while Austin Jackson had four RBIs.
“That was just one of those things,” Dirks said, “when I hit it, they went in the holes. You have nights like that, and you have nights go the other way too.”
Detroit erased a 1-0 deficit by stinging Shields for five runs in the second inning before blowing open the game with five more in the fourth.
It was 7-1 when Shields exited with the bases loaded, but Luis Mendoza permitted all three inherited runners to score — one on a bases-loaded walk and two more on a Jackson single.
“One of those freak games,” Detroit manager Jim Leyland said. “It doesn’t happen very often. The key to this game was (starter Anibal) Sanchez, he shut their offense down. He was aggressive and used his pitches well.”
The 26 hits fell just short of the Royals’ record by an opponent; the Tigers had 27 on May 27, 2004 in a 17-7 victory at the K. Royals first baseman Carlos Peña, then with the Tigers, went six for six with two homers.
Infante also played in that game — and went four for four.
Almost as a tease, the Royals started well against Tigers right-hander Sanchez, the AL’s ERA leader. Billy Butler’s two-out RBI single in the first inning produced a 1-0 lead.
It was all the Royals got against Sanchez, who improved to 13-7 by pitching through the seventh inning. He gave up the one run and seven hits before Luke Putkonen and Drew Smyly finished up.
The Tigers took control with five runs in the second inning after Dirks drew a one-out walk. He went to third on Alex Avila’s single, and scored on Infante’s single.
Ramon Santiago pulled an RBI double past first for a 2-1 lead before Jackson’s double into the right-center gap added two more runs.
Shields struck out Torii Hunter, but Miguel Cabrera flicked an RBI single into left for a 5-1 lead. Fielder single moved Cabrera to second before Shields concluded a 41-pitch inning by striking out Victor Martinez.
The Tigers missed a chance for more after loading the bases with no outs in the third on three successive singles before Shields picked off Dirks at third. Shields then struck out Santiago and Jackson.
But Shields failed to survive another five-run Tiger clawing in the fourth, which Hunter began with a double to center. Hunter went to third on a wild pitch before Cabrera walked and Fielder pumped an RBI single to right.
Dirks loaded the bases with another single. Shields struck out Avila, but Infante pulled an RBI single through the left side for a 7-1 lead. That was the 14th hit against Shields — and, finally, finished his night.
“I don’t think they hit a ball over an outfielder’s head today,” Shields said, “but their approach today was just to put the bat on the ball and try to find holes. That’s what they did tonight.”
In came Mendoza, who forced in a run by walking Santiago before yielding a two-run single to Jackson. That made it 10-1, and all 10 runs were charged to Shields.
The inning ended when first-base umpire Alfonso Marquez rang up Hunter on a check swing that, in a closer game, might have prompted an argument from the Tigers.
Detroit roughed up Mendoza for three runs in the fifth and two more in the seventh. Aaron Crow surrendered the Tigers’ final run in the ninth.
The only plus, the Royals agreed, is it was so bad that it should be easy to move on.
“Yeah,” manager Ned Yost agreed. “Yeah, yeah, yeah.”