Detroit — You can call it a comedy of errors if you want, but nobody in the coaches' room thought it was funny.
The Tigers played an ugly baseball game at Comerica Park Friday night. They made three physical errors, a couple more mental ones and ended up beaten, 4-3, by the 101-loss Kansas City Royals.
"We played really bad baseball the first three or four innings," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Missing plays, not throwing the ball to the right places. It was one of those learning experiences, I hope."
Three of the four runs scored by the Royals off Tigers starter Francisco Liriano were unearned. It’s been a theme for him this year. In 25 starts, he’s been charged with 16 unearned runs — by far the most on team.
"I thought Frankie had good stuff," Gardenhire said. "He gave us six innings and gave us a chance. We just didn't play baseball behind him."
Gardenhire and his staff have harped all year on playing the game correctly — respecting the game, he calls it. That means catching the ball, getting the ball in from the outfield, hitting cut-off men, throwing to the right base, etc.
The first couple of innings of this one had to make his stomach churn.
First inning: Adalberto Mondesi reached on an error by second baseman Dawel Lugo. Alex Gordon followed with a blooper in shallow left field. Mondesi was running on the pitch, never slowed and rounded third base.
Left fielder Christin Stewart picked up the ball and hesitated. Mondesi was still inching toward the plate. Stewart inexplicably lobbed the ball on one hop to second base, and Mondesi scored without a throw.
"Anytime you come up with a ball on a short one like that, a bloop right in front of you, you have to get rid of the ball," Gardenhire said. "You can't look around and hold the ball. You have to give it up.
"If he gives up to the second base right away, who knows? If he throws it to the cut-off man lining up to home, who knows? But you can't hold the ball. These guys are real aggressive runners."
Outfield coach Dave Clark met Stewart on the steps of the dugout after the inning and had a very short conversation. Right fielder Nick Castellanos also talked to Stewart between innings.
"He gets it," Gardenhire said. "More so, get to the ball. You can't come in and take your time. You have to get to the ball in this league. This game is fast, really fast. He understands. He will grow from this."
Third inning: Whit Merrifield led off with a bunt toward Liriano. Liriano picked it up, dropped it and then didn’t have a play. It was scored a single. Merrifield stole second (his 38th stolen base) and scored on a single by Gordon.
Fourth inning: After walking the leadoff hitter, Jorge Bonifacio, Liriano fumbled a softly hit come-backer by Alcides Escobar. He picked it up and still had a play at first. But he threw it hard from close range to first base.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia, playing first base for the first time since 2016, never got a glove on the throw and was charged with an error.
Rosell Herrera followed with a hard ground ball inside the bag at third. The ball rolled into the corner where Stewart fumbled and kicked it, allowing Escobar to score from first. Herrera ended up at third on Stewart’s error and scored on a sacrifice fly.
"One (in the first inning) he took too much time and on that one he rushed," Gardenhire said. "You have to find that happy medium of controlling the baseball and not letting it control you. That's what we talk about all the time."
The damage would have been more severe had catcher James McCann not thrown out Bonifacio, who had strayed too far down the line from third base.
Liriano, though, still managed to get through six innings. It was his third straight start of at least six innings, after going 10 straight starts of five innings or less.
The Tigers crept back into it.
Ronny Rodriguez whacked a fastball at the top of the strike zone from Royals starter Ian Kennedy into the bullpen in left field. It was his fifth homer of the season.
In the sixth, JaCoby Jones singled and then did what possibly no other Tigers base runner could do — he scored easily, without a throw, from first on a double down the left-field line by Castellanos.
"JaCoby can fly, we know that," Gardenhire said. "He's instinctually really, really good. It starts with, as soon as the ball is hit you are going full burn. That's what he does. It's not, 'I can run, I might make it.'
"He's thinking he can make it the whole time and that's how it starts."
Castellanos did it again in the eighth. With two outs and Pete Kozma at first, he ripped one into the gap in left-center field. Kozma scored without a throw, as well, and it was a 4-3 game.
Castellanos is leading the American League with 27 hits this month. He has 44 doubles and 85 RBIs.
The Tigers put the tying run on second base in the ninth against Royals closer Wily Peralta. Victor Reyes was there, pinch-running for McCann, who had reached on a fielder's choice.
Pinch-hitter Jeimer Candelario walked on four pitches to move Reyes into scoring position.
But Peralta struck out Lugo and pinch-hitter Jim Adduci to end it.
Understandably, Gardenhire is already making plans to address some of the defensive issues that showed up again in this one next spring.
"We're planning on doing a lot of work," he said. "We're planning on talking with our minor-league staff and getting everybody on board with what we're trying to do here. And it's going to be fun.
"You don't want to go into spring training thinking it's going to be a grind. This is going to be fun. We are going to do a lot of fun work and hopefully you are going to see a difference as we go along here."