The stars seemed to be aligned for a Royals’ feel-good night with warmer weather, big crowd and ace James Shields on the hill for the Royals chasing the division-leading Tigers.
The Tigers rolled 8-2 before 28,021, padding their American League Central lead and sending the Royals back to a break-even record.
“It was one of those games going in that you felt like you had the advantage,” said Royals designated hitter Billy Butler, who knocked his first home run. “You want to win games like that.”
They didn’t because the Tigers muscled up on Shields, who entered the game with the AL’s fourth-best ERA at 2.03 and a winner in his last three starts.
But Shields never found a groove, and the Tigers’ good swings started to pay off in the third and fourth innings.
Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez smashed RBI doubles in the third, and in the fourth Alex Avila, who had missed the last two games with back spasms, lofted a fly to right center that didn’t stop carrying until it dropped over the wall for a two-run shot.
“That’s a good hitting ball club,” Shields said. “I didn’t my job out there, bottom line. I have to do a better job getting outs. Just one of those games.”
By then, Friday was officially Shields’ worst outing of the season. He surrendered a season-high three earned runs in the opening-day loss at Detroit. Shields got a no-decision that game and had given the Royals quality starts every time out.
But his final tally Friday: 6 1/3 innings, 12 hits, eight runs, seven earned in falling to 3-3 on the season.
Maybe it’s a Tigers thing. In seven starts as a Royal against the reigning division champion, Shields is 1-3.
“We went out there and just looked for a pitch up in the zone,” Martinez said. “When you put a good swing on it, anything can happen. We put some good swings today, and it ended up in our favor.”
This was an equal opportunity loss. All of the Royals’ production against sinker ball specialist Rick Porcello came in the first four innings. And after Butler’s solo blast to lead off the fourth, no Royal reached base, the final 18 set down by Porcello and two Tigers relievers who had contributed to the AL’s highest bullpen ERA entering Friday.
The Royals had made a good first impression at home this season, winning the opener at Kauffman Stadium in each of their first four home series.
That streak ended, and now the Royals must win the final two of the set to avoid dropping their first home series, and it will be up to a makeshift pitching alignment to get back on track.
Lefty Danny Duffy gets his first start on Saturday, and will be restricted to a pitch count in the 80s, manger Ned Yost said.
Butler’s blast led off the fifth and got to the first rows of the left field seats, just inside the foul pole in a hurry. The laser beam made it 5-2, and Butler’s first trip around the bases this season marked career home run No. 119, tying him for ninth place on the Royals’ career home run list with Steve Balboni.
Butler’s previous home run was struck last Sept. 28 at Chicago and he had gone 108 at-bats between dingers.
“I knew I hit it good, I didn’t know it was going out,” Butler said. “The first one is the toughest to get.”
The night started well for the Royals. Omar Infante’s blast in the right-center gap turned into a triple with a nifty slide to the outside of bag to avoid the tag. Eric Hosmer followed with a sacrifice fly to deep center on the next pitch.
Porcello, 4-1, was too much. Mike Moustakas belted a two-out double in the second, and Infante grounded a single to left in third.
After Butler’s homer, the Royals were finished hitting and were on their way to a second straight loss and break-even record.