'An unfortunate break': Late defensive lapse costs Tigers against Royals
Kansas City, Mo. — This one is going to sting.
The Kansas City Royals were 0-36 this season when they trailed after six innings. Make that 1-36.
They rallied from a 2-0 deficit to beat the Tigers, 3-2, Tuesday night — the winning run scoring on a bloop single by Cheslor Cuthbert, a ball was struck with an exit velocity of 78 mph, that traveled 193 feet into shallow right field and had a hit probability of .040.
"It was just in no-man's land," said catcher Grayson Greiner. "It was a fortunate break for them and an unfortunate break for us."
It started with a bad break. With a light rain falling, right fielder Nick Castellanos initially broke back when the ball was hit. First baseman John Hicks was running with his back to the infield.
Second baseman Harold Castro was the third to converge on the ball. At the last second, all three pulled up and the ball dropped safely.
"I think both of us (him and Castellanos) maybe could've got it," Hicks said. "We just didn't communicate very well. At the last second I looked up at him and he looked up at me. Neither of us called it.
"One of us has to call it early."
Typically, the charging outfielder has the authority on those plays. Castellanos didn't make himself immediately available after the game.
"Somebody's got to take charge of the ball," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "I don't know if Nick could get to it or not. I don't know if Hicksy could get to it running with his back to home plate.
"It was just a ball that was hit in the right place when we were playing the infield in."
Speedy Terrance Gore, who had pinch-run and stole third base, was tagging and most likely would've challenged whoever caught the ball.
"If he was going to tag, Nick was the only one who would've had a chance to throw him out," Hicks said. "He was going to go no matter who caught it. It would have been a tough play for either one of us."
The loss underscored how badly the Tigers miss an effective Joe Jimenez. Up 2-0 after starter Spencer Turnbull pitched six scoreless, four-hit innings, the Tigers needed to bridge the seventh and eighth innings with Blaine Hardy, Daniel Stumpf and Victor Alcantara.
Ryan O'Hearn hit a leadoff home run off Hardy in the seventh to cut the lead in half.
Then, in the eighth, Adalberto Mondesi legged out a double off reliever Stumpf. It was a routine single to left, but Mondesi never stopped running, challenging and easily beating the arm of left fielder Christin Stewart.
"They ran themselves into a couple of situations there in the eighth," Gardenhire said. "They do that very well. They are an exciting team when they use their speed like that."
Alcantara was summoned to face Jorge Soler. He threw him a 1-2 sinker that stayed up just enough — Soler hit one off the handle down the line in left for a double to tie the score.
"If he got that sinker down, I don't think Soler would have got to it," Gardenhire said. "But he elevated one and he hit it."
The other factor was the Tigers' decision to take Turnbull out after six innings. The Tigers had Turnbull at 97 pitches, but the official scorer had him at 96.
"We thought about sending him back out," Gardenhire said. "In fact, we told him we were going to send him back out. Then we started talking about it. He's one of our good young pitching prospects. We're definitely not going to run him into trouble."
Turnbull had two innings where he got two outs quickly, within five and six pitches, but still needed 18 to 22 pitches to finish the inning. Credit to the Royals hitters for that, grinding out a lot of at-bats and only striking out five times.
"I would've liked to pitch into the seventh inning," Turnbull said. "That's my goal every time I go out — to pitch at least seven innings. There were a couple of at-bats that I just didn't execute well enough and a couple of walks that probably should never have happened.
"I thought I pitched well tonight, but I would have liked to get into the seventh and save our bullpen."
The third factor in this loss was, again, the low margin for error. The Tigers managed two runs and five hits. They didn't get a hit after the fifth inning.
"You leave yourself open," Gardenhire said. "We didn't put enough offense out there to keep them down."
Castellanos, who was out taking early batting practice four hours before the game, mashed a Jakob Junis fastball 427 feet to left center — his seventh home run of the season.
Brandon Dixon hit one 447 feet into the fountain in left-center field in the fourth inning, his sixth.
JaCoby Jones didn’t factor in the scoring, but he continues to be one of the hottest hitters in baseball. With a single and a double, he’s now hit safely in 15 of his last 16 games. He’s hitting over .400 since May 24, raising his average from .173 to .257.
Adding to Tuesday's woes was the lost the services of shortstop Niko Goodrum, who fouled a ball off his right knee in the third inning. The initial diagnosis was a bruise. Gordon Beckham took over.
"The knee is swollen," Gardenhire said. "The X-rays were negative but he's sore. We're going to day-to-day with it. He won't play tomorrow."