Tigers' lead is 1.5 games after Royals take series finale

By Tom Gage, The Detroit News
Nori Aoki reaches third on his two-run triple in the fourth inning Sunday.

Kansas City, Mo. — The driver's seat got a little less comfortable Sunday, but the Tigers are still its occupant.

What's more, the vehicle is headed home for the final week of the regular season.

Looking to sweep the Royals after winning the first two games of their showdown for first place in the American League Central, the Tigers came up short in a 5-2 loss at Kauffman Stadium.

Rick Porcello (15-12) did not have the kind of start he wanted, exiting in the fourth inning.

The loss didn't knock the Tigers out of first place, though. One loss couldn't have. With seven home games remaining, they lead the division by 1.5 games.

An enviable spot to be in? Sure. But comfortable? Not according to manager Brad Ausmus.

"We can't take either of these teams coming to town (White Sox and Twins) lightly," he said.

"These are the type of teams that can put a dent in the pennant race. We have to do our best to make sure that doesn't happen."

Considering the Tigers' lead was only a half-game when the series began, they weren't about to complain about it being 1.5 games as they left. At the same time, they knew how sweet a sweep would have tasted.

"I just want the fans to know it's never easy," Torii Hunter said. "But it's going to be fun at home.

"Hopefully our fans will get crazy, get loud. It shouldn't be hard to get the natural adrenaline going. We're trying to get in the postseason.

"If you don't feel it, you're not human. You should check your pulse."

The unhappiest Tiger, of course, was Porcello, who just couldn't make the necessary adjustments this time.

That was evident from the first inning on. But his pitching line could have been a lot worse than it was.

"Obviously I'm not happy with the way I performed," said Porcello, who allowed four runs on nine hits in 3.1 innings. "I just couldn't get it going. I was up in the zone the whole day.

"To be honest, I didn't make a lot of good pitches. It didn't happen at a very good time, but it was a tough day."

If it felt like the Royals constantly threatened, it's because they did — starting with the run they scored in the first.

But it took four hits for them to get it — mostly because Alcides Escobar, who opened the inning with a single, was thrown out on a steal attempt of second.

With two outs, the Royals bunched three singles together, Billy Butler driving in Lorenzo Cain.

The Tigers countered by loading the bases with two outs in the second. Remember, they had pummeled Royals' starter Jeremy Guthrie for eight runs on 10 hits in 2.2 innings the last time they faced him — but this time they didn't capitalize right away. Rajai Davis ended the inning with a grounder to short.

The Royals made it 2-0 in the second on Escobar's double that drove in former Tiger Omar Infante from second.

After two innings, and with six hits allowed, it was apparent Porcello needed to settle down quickly or he'd been gone early.

And he, indeed, was.

Ian Kinsler cut the 2-0 deficit in half with his 16th home run leading off the third, but what made it looked as if the Tigers would eventually reel in the Royals was the way they scored in the fourth.

With one out and runners at first and third after a nicely executed hit-and-run by Bryan Holaday, Andrew Romine flied out to left, but too shallow for J.D. Martinez to score from third.

As the throw came in from Alex Gordon in left, though, first-base coach Omar Vizquel, being creative again, sent Holaday to second, which distracted cutoff man Mike Moustakas enough that Moustakas flubbed the throw for an error that allowed Martinez to tie the game with the Tigers' second run.

With Porcello struggling, though, the Royals bounced back, despite their insistence to have their hottest hitters bunt.

With runners at first and second in the fourth, Escobar (6-for-10 in the series) squared around twice with no outs. He bunted the first pitch foul as the crowd booed the strategy, and popped up the second attempt for an easy out.

Nori Aoki restored the crowd's good mood, however, with a two-run triple to right.

The Royals could have broken the game open when they loaded the bases following the triple, but Jim Johnson struck out Butler and Blaine Hardy struck out Gordon.

No other runs were scored until the Royals stretched their lead to three in the seventh with a run on Gordon's RBI double off Phil Coke.

The Tigers, however, were held scoreless after the fourth.

"I felt we were always on the cusp of having a big inning," said Ausmus.

And maybe they were. But a big inning never materialized.