Early lead slips as Tigers fall to Royals in finale
Fister allows three-run homer, but division lead stays at 5 1/2 games
KANSAS CITY -- Too bad the Tigers couldn't distribute their weekend allotment of hits in a more even fashion.
After getting 26 hits on Friday, Detroit managed only five hits and six hits the next two games. Those numbers don't compute to winning a series, and the Tigers didn't. With Eric Hosmer providing the big blow, a three-run homer off Doug Fister in the fifth inning, the Royals claimed the rubber game with a 5-2 victory on Sunday at Kauffman Stadium.
The Sunday script went much like the Saturday script.
The Tigers jump ahead, but then the offense goes into stall mode. Meanwhile, a Detroit starter gives up a go-ahead homer in the middle innings. On Saturday, it was Salvador Perez getting the best of Justin Verlander with a two-run homer. On Sunday, it was Hosmer taking a 2-2 pitch over the center-field wall with two men on.
Once the Royals pulled ahead, it was cruise control the rest of the way. Detroit just wished it could have put some of that Friday offense in the freezer and warmed it up for another day.
Royals veteran left-hander Bruce Chen had the Tigers lauching fungo-like fly balls to the outfield and weak grounders to the infielders by changing speeds and keeping the Detroit hitters off-balance.
Right fielder Torii Hunter, who went a combined 0-for-8 with four strikeouts over the final two games of the series, knew going in that trying to time Chen's pitches would be a tough challenge.
"He's very, very frustrating," Hunter said. "You think it's there, and then right when you swing, it cuts or sinks out of the zone. He's not nasty, he's just frustrating. I'd pull my hair out, but I don't have any."
After scoring 16 runs on Friday, the Tigers had just three and two runs respectively in the final two games.
"Baseball is a crazy game," Hunter said. "Once you think you're [riding high], it slaps you in the face and brings you back down. Then you've got to crawl back up there. Sometimes you're the windshield and sometimes you're the bug. You just try not to be the bug all the time."
The day began with promise for the Tigers as Jose Iglesias returned to the lineup and hit a two-run homer in the third. But even with that home run, there was a problem. Iglesias has been bothered with shin splints and manager Jim Leyland noticed that he wasn't moving smoothly as he rounded the bases.
Iglesias finished the game, but Leyland said he will monitor how Iglesias is feeling when the Tigers open a three-game series against the White Sox on Monday.
The Royals chipped within 2-1 in the fourth thanks to Emilio Bonifacio's walk, a single by Hosmer and an RBI single by Billy Butler. Hosmer's hit came on an 0-2 pitch and bothered Leyland, who has seen a trend of opponents getting too much done on 0-2 pitches.
"We've been doing way too much of that," Leyland said. "It's not just the last two days. We've been doing that for awhile and that's something that we've got to stop."
Fister had two outs and nobody on in the fifth when Alex Gordon hit a bouncer wide of first. Victor Martinez -- who was playing first so that Prince Fielder could get off his feet for a day -- had the ball carom off his glove for a single. Bonifacio followed with a single and Hosmer delivered the crushing three-run homer to straightaway center.
"It was right where he wants it," Fister said. "I was trying to get him to roll it over or pop it up. I left it middle of the plate too much. Trying to make him use the big part of the ballpark and that's what he did."
The Tigers are 56-24 when they score first this season, but 0-2 in the last two days.
"It shows a lot of character in our team after they put up 26 hits and 16 runs in the first game to bounce back and take the next two," Hosmer said.
With Cleveland's loss on Sunday, the Tigers (82-61) still lead the Indians by 5 ½ games. The Royals (75-68) are seven games back in the American League Central.
"We've got a fight on our hands," Leyland said. "That's the way it is supposed to be."