Tigers lose series finale, drop a game back of Royals
Detroit — The Tigers don’t really do sustained momentum, do they?
After two rousing, well-played wins, the Tigers were utterly oppressed Wednesday by Royals right-hander James Shields, losing 3-0 and getting their share of the AL Central lead rudely snatched from their grasp.
“We are closer than we were when we started,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “So that’s a positive.”
True, they cut the Royals’ division lead from two to one, but they didn’t get all the way over the hump.
“Let’s be realistic, it’s tough to get a sweep in Major League Baseball,” Ausmus said. “They’re a pretty good team and James Shields is a pretty good pitcher. Are you disappointed; you are disappointed whenever you lose. But we didn’t give the game away, they beat us. They pitched better and they hit better.
“But the big picture is, we won two out of three, we gained a game and there is plenty of time left.”
Rain storms delayed the start of the game for 42 minutes and dampened some of the energy and enthusiasm in the park. But it wasn’t the rain that dampened the Tigers’ bats. Shields, now 5-0 in his career at Comerica, was just about unhittable.
“It’s definitely a game that we needed, for sure, but I think every game from here on out is pretty crucial,” Shields said. “We’re having fun with it, and that’s what it’s all about. We took a couple tough losses there, the last couple days, but we’re having fun right now and enjoying the moment.”
Shields shut out the Yankees in his previous start and blanked the Tigers through seven innings. Going back three starts, Shields (14-7) has not allowed a run in 18 straight innings.
He gave up a single to the first batter he faced Wednesday — Ian Kinsler — and then promptly picked him off. It was third Tigers runner picked off in this series. From there Shields retired 18 straight before Torii Hunter singled in the seventh.
“You are just waiting for something to break through,” Ausmus said. “You want to get that energy going again. That didn’t happen until Torii’s hit.”
Until Hunter’s single, the only ball that was hit hard was a 410-foot fly out to center by Nick Castellanos.
Hunter wound up being the lone Tiger to reach third base, after a walk to Miguel Cabrera and long flyout by Victor Martinez. But Shields left him stranded when he struck out J.D. Martinez.
“The only thing I’ve been telling guys is just stay relaxed and have fun,” Shields said. “This is why we play the game.”
Tigers starter Rick Porcello (15-11) was pretty good himself, striking out seven and allowing seven hits through 62/3 innings. Unfortunately for the Tigers, four of the hits came in a two-run fourth inning.
Josh Willingham, who has taken over for Billy Butler as the team’s designated hitter the last two games, had the key at-bat in the fourth. He won an epic 11-pitch battle, ripping a single to center.
“I tip my cap to him, that was a heck of an at-bat,” Porcello said. “It definitely for a second wore me down. I needed to do a better job of regrouping. Maybe I should have stepped off the mound and caught my breath. His at-bat resulted in some pitches left up in the zone.”
Eric Hosmer followed with a slow roller to the left side of the infield that he beat out with a head-first slide. Salvador Perez singled in Gordon, and after Hosmer went to third on a fly to medium-depth right field, Lorenzo Cain delivered a two-out single.
“You know, tonight we just ran into a guy who threw the heck out of the ball,” Porcello said. “Shields was outstanding. He didn’t make one bad pitch. So, sometimes you just have to tip your cap. We battled hard, we just came up short.”
The Royals threatened to blow the game open in the eighth. They loaded the bases against lefty Phil Coke with no out — a walk to Alex Gordon, single by Willingham and a bunt single by Hosmer.
Coke appeared to twist his back trying to field the bunt and left the games. The Tigers are calling it back spasms and he will be re-evaluated Thursday.
Al Alburquerque was summoned. His first pitch was lined softly back to Alburquerque who threw to third to double up Gordon. Castellanos made a superb catch of Alburquerque’s low, tailing throw.
Alburquerque then struck out Mike Moustakas and danced wildly off the mound, drawing glares from several of the Royals players.
“It definitely got me fired up,” said Cain, who was on deck when Moustakas fanned. “To see him strike out Moose and fist-pump like that, I was fired up the entire inning. I felt like I had to go up there and do something to prove myself in that next at-bat.”
He did. He led off the ninth with a triple against Joakim Soria, who was making his first appearance since sustaining an oblique injury Aug. 10. He would score on a sacrifice fly to left by Alcides Escobar.
“When I got that triple I was fired up myself,” Cain said. “It’s an emotional game, I understand that. It’s September and the playoff chase, to I understand everybody is pumped up and want to win.”
With the way the Royals back end of the bullpen has performed this season, a three-run lead is as safe as a 10-run lead. They have lost only one game all year when leading after seven innings (64-1).
With closer Greg Holland apparently not available (tight triceps), Kelvin Herrera, with his 97 mph fastball, pitched a scoreless eighth. Then Wade Davis, who has not been scored on in 302/3 straight inning, closed it out.
“We didn’t kill ourselves,” Porcello said. “We improved our position and we get to see them again in a week or so. We’ve got to continue to take care of business against Cleveland and Minnesota, then hopefully go into Kansas City and have another little series like this one.”