Lorenzo Cain stood near home plate, shrugging his shoulders while his eyeballs began to bulge from his head. Royals manager Ned Yost had stepped out of the dugout, moving swiftly toward home plate umpire Chad Fairchild. And for a moment, everybody at Kauffman Stadium wanted to know just what was going on.
It was the bottom of the eighth on Friday night, and Nori Aoki stood on third base after stealing second and advancing to third on an errant throw. The tying run was 90 feet away from home plate, and the Royals were in business.
Or maybe not.
While the play unfolded, Fairchild had called batter’s inference on Cain, who had offered at the pitch and stepped in the way of Detroit catcher Bryan Holaday on his follow-through.
Now Cain was called out. Aoki was sent back to first. And Yost needed an explanation.
“I didn’t think it was a good call at all,” Cain said, still upset more than 20 minutes after the game.
That was the lasting image from the Royals’ 2-1 loss in front of an announced crowd of 31,581 at Kauffman Stadium. It was confusing, and a little bitter.
“Unbelievable, man,” Jarrod Dyson said.
For the second straight night, the Royals (47-45) fell to division-rival Detroit (52-37) which is threatening to grab the AL Central by the jugular entering the All-Star break. One night after suffering through a 16-4 slaughter, the Royals endured a painful near miss tinged with a bit of controversy.
“I was following through (with my swing),” Cain said. “I don’t know what the rules are. I guess the catcher has to make contact with you, but I didn’t think he made contact with me. I didn’t think I affected his throw at all.
“I just think it was a big difference in the ballgame.”
Yost was more diplomatic about the call, saying that he had yet to see the replay in the moments after the game.
“If you swing and you’re leaning out over the plate, even though your feet are in the box and you make contact, it’s interference,” Yost said. “It’s based on the contact, and not giving the catcher a free lane to throw.”
Under Major League Baseball’s replay rules, such a call can’t be challenged. Umpire crew chief Bill Miller, speaking to a pool reporter, confirmed that interference was the call and that contact had been made.
“I thought you had to make contact with the catcher and affect his throw in any way,” said Cain, who inspected replays after the game. “I don’t think I did that.”
After the drama of the eighth inning, the Royals came back to put two runners on in the ninth against Detroit closer Joe Nathan, who escaped the jam by striking out Alcides Escobar and inducing a grounder from Aoki.
One year ago, the Royals crashed into the All-Star Break on a five-game losing skid, including a three-game sweep at the hands of division rival Cleveland. They have the weekend to avoid a similar fate in this season’s first half.
Their salvage operation will begin Saturday with James Shields taking on Rick Porcello at 6:10 p.m. But with Alex Gordon on the shelf with a wrist injury, the first two nights were rather forgettable. The Royals wasted another excellent outing from left-hander starter Danny Duffy and couldn’t string together hits against Detroit starter Anibal Sanchez.
Also of note: The Royals are now 0-5 against Detroit at Kauffman Stadium and 3-8 overall against the divisional powerhouse.
“So far, we haven’t gotten a win (at home against Detroit), but I don’t think it’s an inability,” Duffy said. “I just think the ball wasn’t rolling our way.”
Fair enough. But for years, of course, Sanchez has owned the Royals, dominating an overmatched lineup in his usual understated style. In a rotation with Cy Young winners Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer, Sanchez’s proclivity for excellence can sometimes be overlooked.
He led the American League with a 2.57 ERA last season, and entering Friday, he’d allowed just five runs against the Royals in 43 1/3 innings over six starts. That calculates to a 1.04 ERA, in case you were wondering.
And the Royals didn’t do much to change the numbers, scoring just once while racking up 11 hits.
Before the inference call wrecked the scoring chance in the eighth, the Royals missed a golden opportunity in the seventh when Mike Moustakas opened the inning by bashing a double to left-center. Moustakas moved to third on a groundout from Omar Infante. But shortstop Eugenio Suarez, playing near the infield grass, saved a run with web-gem scoop on a sharp grounder from Jarrod Dyson.
“I think we got 11 hits and we were one for 11 with runners in scoring position,” Yost said. “But again, that’s a little deceiving because we did hit some balls on the nose that they made great plays on.”
The Tigers, meanwhile, picked their spots against Duffy, who had to labor through the early innings against the Tigers. The Tigers took a 1-0 lead in the first after Austin Jackson mashed a double to center on the first pitch of the game and second baseman Ian Kinsler followed with an RBI single.
Duffy then partially gifted a run in the top of the third. With runners on first and second and one out, Duffy threw wildly on a pickoff play at second. The ball wound up in center field, and the runners advanced to second and third. Miguel Cabrera followed with a sac-fly — giving Detroit a 2-1 lead — before Duffy struck out J.D. Martinez to end the inning.
Duffy screamed into his glove in frustration as he walked back to the dugout. At that moment, Duffy hoped that his error hadn’t produced the deciding run.
But six innings later — after some missed chances and a controversial decision — it was.
To reach Rustin Dodd, call 816-234-4937 or send email to email@example.com. Follow him at twitter.com/rustindodd.