Tigers fight to the finish but drop wild slugfest

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Tigers designated hitter Victor Martinez connects on his grand slam in the third inning to make it 7-4 Royals.

Detroit – It’s too late in the season and too much is at stake to pull silver linings out of losses.

The Tigers fought valiantly Sunday. Down 7-0 in the third, down 11-5 in the sixth inning, and yet, Miguel Cabrera stood at the plate in the bottom of the ninth inning representing the tying run.

But when left fielder Alex Gordon made a diving catch of Cabrera’s looping drive, the Tigers walked off the field with their second straight loss to the Royals – 12-9.

In two days they went from having a half-game lead over the Orioles for the second wild-card spot, to being 1.5 games behind them, with seven games left. And on Monday, the Indians come to town with a magic number of one, looking to clinch and celebrate their Central Division title at Comerica Park.

“You don’t want to lose late when you are fighting for a playoff spot,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “It feels like every loss is insurmountable. But the truth is, it’s not insurmountable. We still have a week of games left and there are still three or four teams still involved.

“We just have to go out and hopefully win tomorrow.”

BOX SCORE: Royals 12, Tigers 9

The Tigers found themselves at the bottom of a very steep hill just four batters into the game Sunday. And, try as they might – and man, they tried – they were never able to climb all the way to the top.

“The fight in the offense was outstanding,” Ausmus said. “Nobody wants to lose, definitely not this time of year. But the offense did not give up.”

Starting pitcher Matt Boyd, coming off the best outing of his career (eight innings, one run, three hits against the Twins), was hit for the cycle by the first four Royals he faced.

Billy Burns, first pitch of the game, single. Whit Merrifield, triple, RBI. Kendrys Morales, double, RBI. Salvador Perez, two-run home run.

Boyd is the first pitcher in team history to be hit for a cycle in an inning without recording an out. It hadn’t been done by any pitcher since Montreal’s Tomo Ohka did it in April of 2002.

"It sucks, no doubt about that,” said Boyd, who could not get his pitches down in the zone. “More than anything, you know you’re going to wake up tomorrow, and we’re still very much in this thing. And it’s going to be a heck of a week, when we pull this thing off.”

Wait. What?

“Did you see how we fought today?” Boyd said. “We know what to do. Obviously today wasn’t our day, but we all believe we can do it in here, and that’s exactly what we plan on doing. We can only control our end of things.

“That being said, we still believe in ourselves. We’re, what, a game and a half back now? We know what we can do.”

The Royals didn’t stop hitting and the Tigers didn’t stop chasing. The game featured 21 runs, 36 hits struck and 13 different pitchers. The Tigers used Anibal Sanchez, Mike Pelfrey and Jordan Zimmermann – three-fifths of their starting rotation coming out of spring training – in relief.

The Royals added three more runs off Sanchez in the third inning on back-to-back home runs by the eighth and ninth hitters – Cheslor Cuthbert (two-run homer) and Raul Mondesi Jr. – to make it 7-0.

The Tigers made a series of surges.

In the bottom of the third. Victor Martinez hit a grand slam home run off Royals starter Edinson Volquez to cut the lead to 7-4. It was his 27th homer and third in the last four days.

J.D. Martinez followed with a double and went to third on a wild pitch. Volquez, with two outs, walked both Erick Aybar and Jarrod Saltalamacchia to load the bases.

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At that point, Volquez was replaced by Peter Moylan.

Andrew Romine tried to surprise the Royals by attempting to bunt for a hit. But his bunt went right back to Moylan who threw to the plate for the easy force out.

“You have to ask Romine,” Ausmus said. “I can’t say what he was thinking.”

The bunt sign was not given and Ausmus said there was no miscommunication. But neither he, nor Romine, would discuss it in any detail.

“If I have a problem with the strategy of a player, I will talk to the player,” Ausmus said. “There was definitely not a missed sign.”

At that point, down three, Ausmus summoned late-inning set-up reliever Shane Greene in the fourth inning.

“I normally wouldn’t bring Greene in the fourth,” Ausmus said. “But I felt, we got close and I wanted to keep us somewhat in striking distance and go from there.”

But Greene, who has struggled in the month of September, gave up two runs on an RBI single by Morales and double by Gordon.

Gordon hit a two-run home run in the sixth inning off Pelfrey, making it 11-5. But the Tigers kept trying to climb back.

Cameron Maybin, who had four hits and scored four runs, tripled and scored in the fourth inning. Maybin scored again in the sixth on a wild pitch. Justin Upton hit his 28th home run of the season, off Joakim Soria, in the seventh, bringing it back to the original four-run deficit – 11-7.

The Tigers scored twice off Royals set-up man Kelvin Herrera in the eighth on a sacrifice fly by J.D. Martinez and a wild pitch.

Zimmermann, who was scheduled to pitch another simulated game (his third) on Monday, gave the Tigers three solid innings in the first regular-season relief appearance of his career – giving up a single run in the ninth.

“It’s just time to turn it around,” Saltalamacchia said of the 1.5-game deficit. “All we can do is come here tomorrow and be prepared to play and keep doing what we’re doing. We’ve been playing good baseball. Putting some wins together. It’s not over until the last game of the season.”

Twitter @cmccosky