Royals can't hold on to snap Opening Day skid
Perez enjoys four-hit day, but bullpen struggles to finish off late innings
DETROIT -- Not this time either for the Royals on Opening Day.
Not even to start a season that the experts predict could be a breakthrough season for Kansas City. Not even on a sunny 52-degree afternoon in which they jumped ahead of the defending division champions they have to overtake in the American League Central.
It just wasn't to be. Detroit dealt the Royals their sixth straight loss in a season opener, 4-3, on Alex Gonzalez's walk-off single on Monday as a sellout crowd of 45,068 fans roared at Comerica Park.
"I think we're going to be fine," said closer Greg Holland, who gave up the game-ending hit. "We lost one game, and we'll re-boot and get back at it Wednesday.
That's right. The Royals, who last won on Opening Day in 2008, have to sit through Tuesday's open date in Motown before getting back at it.
They had some positives to reflect upon. Their big catcher, Salvador Perez, opened the season by going 4-fo-4 and three of his hits led an assault on Tigers starter Justin Verlander, a long-time Royals nemesis.
But the bottom line showed red ink and Perez's perfect day at the plate was ruined.
"I feel bad. Sometimes I'll go 0-for-4 and I'll block the ball and we win the game. I feel happy then," he said.
Royals starter James Shields held a 3-1 lead when he left in the seventh inning, but the historically strong bullpen couldn't hold on. Of course, Shields departed with the Royals in a precarious situation and he defended his relief corps.
"They are still good. Sometimes you've got your days and sometimes you don't," Shields said. "We've got a long season to go and I'll hand the ball off to those guys any day of the week."
Austin Jackson tripled with one out in the seventh and Shields walked Alex Avila. That brought another right-hander, Aaron Crow, out of the bullpen.
Crow struck out rookie Nick Castellanos, but the third strike dipped into the dirt and bounced away from catcher Perez, allowing Jackson to score.
"I thought it was a good pitch, 0-2, and I got him to chase it," Crow said. "Salvy's got a real hard job back there and he's not going to block every single pitch. It was just a situation that just kinda stunk."
Then, Gonzalez rolled a triple into the left-center gap, scoring Avila for a 3-3 tie.
That helped make up for an error that Gonzalez, the Tigers' hasty replacement for injured Jose Iglesias at shortstop, made during the Royals' three-run fourth inning.
"When you make an error, especially when it scores a run, to have an opportunity like that ... to get a triple to tie the game, I'm excited about that," Gonzalez said.
Royals manager Ned Yost went to right-hander Wade Davis for a scoreless eighth inning and hoped that he'd get through the ninth as well.
"We had the option of either going with [Kelvin] Herrera or Wade," Yost said. "Wade got through the eighth well, I thought he did a nice job. We were sending Wade back out to see if he could get us through the ninth, and in a tie game we were going to go to Herrera in the 10th or Holly if we took the lead."
However, with one out, Davis walked Avila and gave up a single to Castellanos that sent pinch-runner Tyler Collins to third. With runners at the corners, Yost brought in his closer, Holland.
"The game was on the line right there and I wanted to put my best pitcher in there at the time to try to get us to the top of the 10th," Yost said.
But, on a 2-1 pitch, Gonzalez lined a single past shortstop into left field and Opening Day was over.
"I fell behind in the count [2-1] and tried to throw a pitch down in the zone for a strike," Holland said. "It was down, but it was over the middle of the plate and he stayed on it and hit into left field."
All of this came after Verlander, given a 1-0 lead by Victor Martinez's second inning home run, was tagged for three runs in the Royals' fourth inning. Verlander contributed three walks to the uprising.
The inning featured Perez's second double, which scored Alex Gordon; an RBI single by Lorenzo Cain and Gonzalez's boot of Nori Aoki's grounder that loaded the bases. Verlander walked ex-Tiger Omar Infante to force in the third run and the bases were still loaded.
"Obviously, I don't want to walk Omar there, but I was able to gather it, get the next guy out and keep us in the ballgame," Verlander said. "A big hit there to the next guy, that's how the wheels fall off. Walk a guy and you get down on yourself, you make a mistake to the next guy and he hits a double, then it's 6-1, not 3-1."
Eric Hosmer, however, did not hit a double. He popped out and the inning was over.
"We scored three against a guy like Verlander but, yeah, of course I want to score 10," Yost said. "But you take three and that's a nice inning right there."
In the end, though, it was not enough and there was another Opening Day loss on the books for the Royals.
"It's a tough loss, definitely a tough loss," Shields said. "Not the way we want to start our season off, but we're going to move on to Wednesday and try to get a 'W.'"