Lack of run support dooms Shields as Royals fall to Tigers 4-1

Stop us if you’ve heard this one before.

Royals ace James Shields tossed seven strong innings Sunday in the series finale against Detroit at Kauffman Stadium, but

Tigers starter Doug Fister allowed only one run on six hits and a walk in six innings before passing the baton to a once-beleaguered bullpen that turned in three shutout innings as Detroit avoided a sweep with a 4-1 victory.

It’s not as if Shields, 4-7, pitched poorly. He scattered nine hits and didn’t allow a walk in seven innings, while striking out six.

“I thought James was as sharp as he’s been in his last two or three starts,” manager Ned Yost said.

However, with a chance to pull within five games against the Tigers in the AL Central standings, the Royals’ offense sputtered behind Shields, who turned in his 16th quality start of the season but fell to 3-5 in those games.

“Fister was really good today,” Yost said. “He had tremendous movement on his two-seamer and was boring it in on lefties then running it back and boring it down and away. He had a tremendous curveball. It’s a slow curveball, but it’s got a lot of bite. He hit his spots and worked ahead in the count.”

Meanwhile, Shields, who entered the game with the fourth-lowest run support in the American League, once again failed to weather the first inning unscathed.

After Shields struck out the first two batters, Miguel Cabrera crushed a 1-1 fastball down the left-field line for a 387-foot solo home run, his 31st of the season.

“When I went back and looked at it, it was inside about at the chalk in the batter’s box,” Shields said. “That’s why he’s probably the best hitter in the game as far as I’m concerned. He did a pretty good job right there.”

In 21 starts, Shields now has allowed 18 first-inning runs, which works out to more than 34 percent of the runs he’s allowed all season.

Miguel Tejada, who started at second base after Chris Getz sprained a knee Saturday, answered Cabrera’s shot with a one-out blast to left-center in the bottom of the second, but that was the Royals’ only run and only extra-base hit.

The Royals’ defense kept the Tigers close.

After Victor Martinez led off the second with a double, Tejada ranged to the third-base side of the bag and snared Jhonny Peralta’s twisting, cue-shot grounder then made a spectacular underhand throw.

One batter later, first baseman Eric Hosmer picked Andy Dirks’ line-shot on a short hop and scampered to the bag for the second out, while Shields induced a comebacker from former Royals catcher Brayan Pena to strand Martinez at third.

Center fielder Jarrod Dyson ran down Cabrera’s blast to wall in center leading off the fourth, prompting a lengthy appreciative roar from the crowd of 20,513.

An inning later, however, Dyson wasn’t able to bring back Dirks’ wall-scraping, one-out home run to straightaway center, which put the Tigers back in front 2-1.

“I was pretty close, but I didn’t get any glove on it,” Dyson said. “It was probably a couple of inches from the glove. I wish I’d have caught that.”

Pena tacked on a couple of insurance runs with sacrifice flies in seventh off Shields and the ninth against Kelvin Herrera.

Drew Smyly, Bruce Rondon and closer Joaquin Benoit, who picked up his ninth save, each worked a scoreless inning in relief.

“If we’d have won today and swept them that would have been fantastic, but the consolation prize is we won the series,” Yost said. “Our mindset from here on out is we’ve got to continue to focus on winning series. If we can do that from here to the end of the year, we’re going to be in pretty good shape.”

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