Kansas City, Mo. — Accountability, at least, was not an issue for the Tigers after an aggravating 4-2 loss to the Royals Sunday at Kauffman Stadium.
Starting pitcher Matthew Boyd, who pitched another strong game, took the blame for a fat, 3-2 change-up that Mike Moustakas bashed to the wall in right-center field for a two-run double in the pivotal third inning.
First baseman John Hicks, who had three hits including his third home run of the season, took the blame for not holding a runner at first base, that helped set the table for the Royals in that bizarre third inning.
Mostly, though, manager Ron Gardenhire put it on himself.
“I don’t like it,” he said. “You can’t let a team run all over you like that. You can’t give up free bases. It looks ridiculous. I hate it. And we’re going to get it fixed. That’s on me. I’m the manager here. I have to get these guys to understand how we do these things and I didn’t do that very well here today.”
Down 1-0, Boyd got the first two outs in the third inning. Whit Merrifield, who singled, stole second and scored in the first inning, hit a hard ground ball that rocketed through third baseman Niko Goodrum.
Goodrum was making his first start at third base, replacing Jeimer Candelario, who was out with a jammed thumb.
Merrifield stole second and with left-handed hitting Moustakas on deck, lefty Boyd pitched around and walked right-handed hitting Jorge Soler.
Then it got nuts.
Boyd got ahead of Moustakas 0-2. The Tigers were in a shift, with Goodrum the only defender on the left side. With two strikes, Goodrum started to drift more to his left, toward second base. Merrifield picked up on that and stole third without a play.
“The shift is part of it,” Gardenhire said. “And we have people playing that don’t understand what we’re doing there. You can’t let a guy run like that. With two strikes, Niko just started walking over.”
On the next pitch, Gardenhire was frantically waving his arms and yelling at Hicks to hold Soler at first. Hicks never looked in the dugout and stayed back. Boyd stepped off the mound and had Soler picked off, but neither shortstop Jose Iglesias nor second baseman Dixon Machado moved to cover the bag. Soler was in without a throw.
“That’s my fault,” Hicks said. “I didn’t look into the dugout. To me, I wasn’t going to hold him, but instead of assuming, I should’ve just picked him up in the dugout where he was telling me to be on the bag.”
That Goodrum and Hicks, who is filling in for the injured Miguel Cabrera, are relatively inexperienced at those positions is part of the problem. But there may also be a structural issue relative to how the Tigers position themselves with a runner at second base that Gardenhire needs to deal with.
Listen to Iglesias:
“There’s nothing we could do,” he said. “Niko couldn’t get to third base playing in the shift. I was playing the shift, too. Boyd did a good job of not throwing the ball because that would have cost a run right away.
“If the coaching staff is not happy about it, we’ve got to figure it out. As a defender, you can’t cover both spots.”
Iglesias said he might’ve been able to get to the bag at second for a play on Soler. But it would have been risky. He would have been running full speed toward a sliding runner, and Boyd would have had to hit him on the run.
“If (the coaches) aren’t happy about it and they aren’t willing to (play straight up in the infield), we have to figure it out,” Iglesias said. “Because we can’t cover both places. This is good that it’s happened now because we can talk about it and learn from it and look at how we can prevent this in the future.”
That’s exactly what Gardenhire is planning to do. Goodrum, he said, was supposed to play off third base as far as he could while still being able to get to third if Merrifield tried to steal. Hicks was supposed to hold Soler so he couldn’t get a running start and possibly score on a single.
“We are playing a lot of different people right now and we’re still trying to get familiar with it,” Gardenhire said. “We have to be better as coaches. I am putting it on myself. We have to do a better job of making sure we understand the situation.”
That said, Boyd was still one pitch away from getting out of the inning.
“I threw the pitch I wanted to, but I didn’t execute it like I wanted to,” said Boyd, who allowed just two more hits after the third and pitched seven strong innings. “But looking back, I had a chance to put him away earlier in the count and I didn’t do that.”
Ahead 0-2, he nibbled around the edges and Moustakas worked the count full. On the eighth pitch of the at-bat, Boyd left a change-up too much over the plate and Moustaskas clobbered it, clearing the bases and putting the Royals up 3-0.
Salvador Perez followed with a pop-up in short left field that Iglesias lost in the brutal high sky to score Moustaskas.
“I got a lot of weak contact today and I made most of my pitches all game,” Boyd said. “It’s unfortunate that the game came down to that Moustakas match-up.”
The Royals took three of four from the Tigers for their first series win of the season.