Kansas City, Mo. — The losses are piling up now. The clubhouse is seemingly getting emptier and quieter with each one.
"It's frustrating to lose," said catcher James McCann after the Tigers were beaten by the Kansas City Royals on Tuesday, 6-2. "No one likes to lose. No one shows up to lose."
It was the Tigers' fourth straight loss.
They are 7-17 in August, 12-22 since the All-Star break. They are 19-45 on the road. In this current stretch of 17 games against Central Division teams not named the Indians, they are 6-11.
"When losses pile up, that's when you really have to dig deep and find a way to battle," McCann said. "You have to find a way to scrap for every run that you can. make every play that you can and find a way to get out of it.
"It's situations like this that build character."
For the third time in four games, the Tigers were bitten by a sudden and fatal crooked number.
It was a six-run eighth inning on Friday. A four-run third on Sunday. And at Kauffman Stadium Tuesday, they were done in by a five-run third inning.
This one was baffling because Tigers starter Matthew Boyd had looked razor sharp in the first two innings. His slider was biting and his four-seam fastball lively (topping out at 94 mph) and nipping corners on both sides of the plate.
But the first four-seamer he threw in the third inning, to No. 9 hitter Adalberto Mondesi on an 0-2 pitch, flew 410 feet into the seats in left-center field. Things unraveled quickly from there.
"I got away from my fastball command in that inning," Boyd said. "I had my fastball command early in the game and I had it for the last three innings I worked. But I just got away from it that inning. It wasn't as sharp.
"I made the adjustment and moved forward. Unfortunately, it was a five-run inning and that's on me. That's my loss right there."
It was clear that neither McCann nor Boyd was thrilled with the pitch selection on the Mondesi home run. He had gotten ahead with a four-seamer and swing-and-miss on a slider.
The 0-2 pitch was a four-seamer up and over the plate.
"Hats off to him, he hit my pitch," Boyd said. "We could've gone with something different there. That's on me. I need to have a better eye for that. Next time. I had a lot of options there and in hindsight, I could have done something different."
Said McCann: "Obviously, it wasn't the right pitch. He got to it and from there we maybe tried to do a little too much. We got back to the game plan after that inning, but you get beat, then you try to do too much and all of a sudden, you've gone away from your strengths.
"You are trying to throw a two-strike, put-away pitch from pitch one."
An indication that Boyd was out of sorts — with just one out in the third inning, he had walked three hitters. He hadn’t walked more than two in his previous 11 starts.
The Royals loaded the bases on two occasions in the third inning. Runs scored on two sacrifice flies (Jorge Bonifacio and Alcides Escobar). Two more scored on a bases-loaded double by Hunter Dozier.
"He got out of whack and it kind of snowballed," Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said. "That's what happens. You try to make the perfect pitch and you get something out over the plate."
It was a 32-pitch inning and the Royals sent nine men to the plate. But, amazingly, that was the only inning they did any damage against Boyd.
He was at 62 pitches after three innings and managed to grind his way through six. He dispatched 11 of the last 13 Royals hitters he faced. So, five innings of three-hit, shutout ball and one cluster of hits, walks and runs.
Hard to figure.
What wasn’t as hard to figure, Royals starter Jakob Junis continues his personal mastery of the Tigers. He beat them for the fourth time this season. In those four starts, the Tigers managed six runs in 31 innings.
He pitched a complete game Tuesday, allowing six hits with seven strikeouts.
In all his other starts, he is 3-12 with a 5.28 ERA.
That is hard to figure.
"I would say it's just the nuances of the game," McCann said. "You have a really good year against a pitcher, or a pitcher has a really good year against a team, and then it flip-flops the next year. These are the things that happen in this game.
"That's why what it says on paper never matters. You have to go out and play the game."
The Tigers looked like they might finally get to Junis in this one. His slider was flat in the early innings and the Tigers began to exploit it in the top of the third inning. Singles by Mikie Mahtook (who extended his on-base streak to 13 games) and James McCann — both swatting sliders — put runners on the corners with no outs.
But it fizzled quickly, the only run coming home on a sacrifice fly by Jeimer Candelario.
But after the Royals posted their five runs, Junis was a different pitcher — funny how that happens. He found his slider, his sinker and his four-seamer and cruised. The only damage after the third was a solo home run by JaCoby Jones (his ninth) in the eighth inning.
"He went away from his slider after that third inning," McCann said. "He started mixing his four-seam and two-seam fastballs and didn't predominantly throw his slider. He did a nice job of adjusting away from that pitch."
Jim Adduci had two hits off Junis. Since Aug. 8, when John Hicks went on the disabled list and Adduci started playing regularly at first base, he is hitting .327.
"We want to win ballgames and compete with these (Central Division) teams," Gardenhire said. "We're all in about the same place, trying to redo some things and we want to win these games.
"But we haven't played well on the road and I don't know why. Nothing much good has happened for us on the road and we have to figure that out. It's just a battle right now."