Detroit — Nearly 30 minutes after the game and Francisco Rodriguez was still in full uniform, sitting in front of his locker. His head was buried in his hands.
“Painful. Disgusting. Shame. Everything,” he said, when he finally looked up and was ready to speak on what happened. “I mean, it’s definitely a bad position to fail the way that I just failed today. Unacceptable. One pitch away. One strike away and I couldn’t make one pitch.”
That ever elusive last strike. The Tigers led 4-2 and with two runners on. They were one strike away from their sixth straight win and Rodriguez’s 45th save.
But Paulo Orlando sent a 2-2 pitch over Cameron Maybin’s head to the wall in center field, scoring two runs to tie the game 4-4.
After a walk to Cheslor Cuthbert, Eric Hosmer, who had struck out three times in the game, blasted a three-run home run and the Royals stole a 7-4 win.
“I let my team down today,” Rodriguez said. “Simple as that. I let everybody down. That’s why I want to apologize to them and the fans. …. Definitely this one’s on me.
“This one is on me, big time.”
Maybin and J.D. Martinez knocked in a pair of runs each, three of the runs off Royals’ starter Yordano Ventura, who left in the fifth inning with back stiffness and spasms.
Daniel Norris started and pitched 5 2/3 strong innings before relievers Alex Wilson, Justin Wilson and Bruce Rondon got seven straight outs from the end of the sixth through the eighth.
“We got the ball to Frankie and that’s the position we want to be in,” said Ian Kinsler, who had three hits. “It didn’t turn out the way we wanted it to, but we got ourselves in position to win. Tomorrow is a new day, just get ready for tomorrow.”
Rodriguez fell behind Alex Gordon 2-0 before giving up a single to start the ninth. With one out, Hunter Dozier hit a ground ball single between shortstop and third. But Rodriguez rallied to strike out pinch-hitter Daniel Nava and got two quick strikes on Orlando.
But he missed badly on the next two pitches. Orlando, on 2-2, hit an 86 mph pitch, down in the zone, on a line to the base of the wall in center.
“Definitely that’s where I wanted it,” Rodriguez said. “Sometimes you’ve got to be careful what you wish for. That’s where I wanted it, but the result was what happened.
"But overall, yeah, that’s where I wanted it. I didn’t want to go 3-2. You go 3-2, the runner’s going to be in motion, and anything in the gap, or between the gaps, the guy from first is going to score. So you want to avoid a 3-2 count.”
The Tigers’ outfielders were playing deeper than usual — no-doubles depth. But the ball was hit on a line. Maybin could only turn and chase it.
“He barreled it up out front,” Rodriguez said. “What surprised me is that it went over the center fielder’s head. That’s what surprised me. Two outs, no doubles — that’s what I’m thinking. Anything above any outfielder’s heads has got to be a homer.
“That’s when I got a shock.”
He admitted he may have lost focus after that. After the walk to Cuthbert he surrendered the three-run bomb to Hosmer.
“Lost command,” he said. “I don’t know if I lost my concentration, too. At that point, not only him, to start the inning, 2-0 with Gordon. Get (Alcides) Escobar on a fly out, get the big strikeout — after that and the wheels fell off.”
Manager Brad Ausmus said he did not consider removing Rodriguez after Orlando's double.
“No, it’s a tie game,” he said. “You usually use your closer in a tie game in the ninth, as well.”
Asked what his options may have been had he thought about removing him, he said: “I wasn’t, so I didn’t have to worry about it. I was never going to go get him until we were trailing.”
The five runs allowed by Rodriguez ties his career-worst.
As much as Rodriguez took ownership of the ninth inning, the Tigers were lamenting all the missed scoring opportunities earlier in the game. They left 14 runners on base, eight in scoring position.
“That’s kind of what we’ve had with Ventura,” Ausmus said. “We get some hits, we get on base, but a lot of times we have a little trouble pushing runs across. The truth is, we did today. We pushed enough runs across to have the lead.
“Just, Frankie had an off day. You’re going to have an off day from time to time. He’s been outstanding. We wouldn’t be here without him. Like they say, (stuff) happens.”
The Tigers still haven’t beat Ventura. He came in with a 7-0 record and 2.84 ERA against them. And the Tigers had mustered only two runs or less the last seven times they faced him.
“Yeah, we had a bunch of opportunities,” Kinsler said. “But like I said, if we get the ball to Frankie in the ninth with a lead, we feel really good about that. He’s been great all year.”
The loss put the Tigers behind the Orioles by a half-game for the second wild-card spot. The Orioles beat the Diamondbacks, 6-1, on Saturday night.
“I will talk to you (media) and I will move on,” Ausmus said. “We lost the game. Give them credit for coming back against one of the best closers in the American League. Don’t cry over spilled milk. We’ve got a game tomorrow.
“We’ve got eight games left. This is going to be a dogfight. We lost this one, but it doesn’t mean we can’t come back tomorrow and win.”