Detroit — This wasn’t a fair fight. Not this series and certainly not this game. And it left the Tigers in an earnest soul-searching mood afterward.
“We aren’t playing the brand of baseball that we should be playing,” center fielder Mikie Mahtook said after the Tigers were swept and shellacked by the Kansas City Royals 16-2 Wednesday night. “The core of it is, just go out and play the right way; the way you are supposed to play.
“Everybody has pride in here. Everybody wants to compete. I don’t think people are quitting. Just go out every day and play hard and play the right way.”
It was just six days prior that the Royals pounded out 16 runs and 19 hits against the Tigers in Kansas City. This time, it was 16 runs and 22 hits.
Asked if this was any more embarrassing than last week’s bludgeoning, Justin Upton shook his head and said, “It’s embarrassing; I don’t think there are degrees of embarrassing, are there?”
No, there are not. But nor were there any redeeming qualities in this one. Not when the game featured two balks, another huge baserunning gaffe (Jose Iglesias got thrown out at third after his double helped cut the lead to 4-1), a mental mistake by pitcher Chad Bell (failure to cover first base), a bullpen meltdown and a nonsensical attempted beanball incident that led to a brief and uneventful benches-clearing fracas in the top of the ninth inning.
“It’s not a fun loss,” Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. “Anytime you get your tails kicked like that, it’s not a lot of fun.”
Right-hander Bruce Rondon, after he gave up two singles, a balk and a run, drilled Mike Moustakas with a fastball. Moustakas took several steps toward the mound as the benches emptied quickly.
“It happens in baseball,” Ausmus said. “Fortunately, it didn’t turn into anything major. No punches were thrown; no blood was drawn.”
Danny Duffy, the Royals starter and winner Tuesday night, was the most agitated and aggressive player during the fracas.
“If Rondon doesn’t want to compete in a situation that’s not sexy, they should send his (butt) home,” Duffy said.
Rondon, who had to be restrained by umpire Sam Holbrook, as well as teammates Michael Fulmer and Alex Wilson, was ejected — leaving super utilityman Andrew Romine to get the last two outs of the inning.
Rondon didn’t speak to reporters afterward. The presumption was that he was angered that Lorenzo Cain ran through the stop sign held up by third-base coach Mike Jirschele to score the Royals' 14th run.
The Tigers players didn’t seem as bothered by that as Rondon was.
“If you are on the bases and the guy drives you in, you run your bases and you score,” Upton said. “It was clearly a situation where he could score, and score pretty easily.”
The Royals were bemused by it.
“We just came out, played baseball, didn't show anybody up,” said Eric Hosmer, who had a monster game, with five hits, six RBIs and his first career grand slam. “We scored runs and got hits and apparently, that's frowned upon here.”
The Tigers batted in the ninth without any retaliation from the Royals.
“It's one of those situations where you just don't try to compound something that's not very smart,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “You just go ahead and get through the inning right there.”
Said Hosmer: “We're in a pennant race. We can't afford any suspensions. We can't afford anybody to go out and get hurt over there. So, it's a little different situation on this side.”
The few Tigers who stuck around afterward seemed confused by the whole drama.
“At that point, I just tried to get down there and ease everything out and try not to let it escalate and get bigger than it should,” Mahtook said. “Obviously, the game was out of hand, it really wasn’t chippy leading up to it. It is what it is. Deal with it and get past it.”
Ausmus was at a loss to speak for why Rondon took it upon himself to throw at Moustakas.
“I don’t know,” he said. “That would be a better question for him.”
Asked if he was concerned about Rondon’s volatility and maturity on the mound, Ausmus said, “No more than I was yesterday.”
Hard to believe, but it was a 4-1 game heading into the seventh inning. But against Bell and Warwick Saupold, the Royals banged out eight hits and scored nine times — capped by Hosmer’s slam.
It was Hosmer’s second career five-hit game — the other was also against the Tigers in 2011. Alcides Escobar had four hits and three RBIs. Whit Merrifield, Moustakas and Cain each had three hits.
It’s the eighth straight win for the Royals. Since Mahtook hit a two-run home run in the ninth inning in Kansas City last Wednesday — a game the Tigers would lose in the bottom of the ninth — the Royals have outscored the Tigers 42-10 and beat them five straight times.
“You want to say you can shrug it off, that you are going to have these kinds of games, because you are,” Mahtook said. “But there are some things that happened tonight that aren’t good, things we don’t want to see happen. It’s not how we play and not how we go about things.
“But we do have to move past it. We have an off-day tomorrow to clear our heads. Then we have to come back Friday and get back to playing baseball.”
Upton was asked if the looming trade deadline and the club being in a seller’s mode might be having a distracting effect on some players.
“It doesn’t matter,” he said. “Until something happens, nothing matters. I think we are all grown-ups in here. We understand the game of baseball; we’ve been around long enough. We should be more of a professional if that is hindering you from playing and performing the way you should be performing.”
Ausmus seconded that.
“Maybe it affects certain people more than others,” he said. “And I understand that mental mistakes happen. But if they are happening because of that, then those people need to fix it. Because they have a job to do and there are games we are trying to win.”