KANSAS CITY -- Justin Wilson wasn't thinking about the trade rumors that have enveloped him as the Tigers closer stood at his locker following Wednesday's 4-3 loss to the Royals.
He was not thinking about the oppressive Midwestern heat that left the field simmering, the bullpen smoldering and him sweating. Nor was he looking back on the summer-long success that has made him one of the most valued relievers on the trade market and the Tigers' most trusted closer in quite a few years.
He was thinking about the one-out, four-pitch walk to Alcides Escobar that put the tying run on base and began the Royals' comeback, just like the one-out walk his Royals counterpart, Kelvin Herrera, yielded to Victor Martinez that jump-started the Tigers' rally in the top of the inning.
The next batter, Brandon Moss, then doubled Escobar home, moved to third on the throw and scored on Alex Gordon's walk-off sacrifice fly.
"The walk killed me," Wilson said. "If Moss doubles without the walk, if I get Escobar out, it's a two-out double and I get a popup to end it. Just didn't pitch well enough."
It's the nature of the closer's role, though Wilson hasn't had to deal with the losing side of it in two months. The last time he blew a save opportunity, Chris Davis got him for a game-tying homer at Comerica Park. That was May 16; he had converted all eight of his save chances since while striking out 22 batters over 18 1/3 innings. He had walked one batter and allowed one hit over his last eight appearances, all scoreless with 11 strikeouts.
Wilson was well warmed, having started throwing as the top of the ninth inning began, before Michael Mahtook's two-run homer suddenly put Detroit in front. If there was a bottom of the ninth, Wilson was going to pitch it, tied or ahead. He hadn't pitched since Sunday's extra-inning win over the Blue Jays; the Tigers' wins in the first two games here were so lopsided that he wasn't needed.
Wilson induced Mike Moustakas to swing at a first-pitch cutter up and fly out to center for the first out. He had worked up a sweat, but said he had no issues gripping the ball, despite four pitches to Escobar that weren't close to the zone.
His next pitch was a 95 mph fastball in the zone that Brandon Moss belted off the wall in right-center field, sending Escobar darting around third base. As Mahtook threw the ball in, the Tigers had to decide whether they had a play at the plate.
"That's the tying run. We're on the road," manager Brad Ausmus said. "You generally don't want to be in a tie game when you're on the road, because they get the last crack at you."
Said cutoff man Ian Kinsler: "I thought I had an opportunity to. Mikie got the ball in pretty quick. I have to try to throw that guy out. If I can throw that guy out, then our chances of winning that game go way up. Rather than play for the tie on the road, I'm going to try to throw that guy out."
Moss sensed that, too, and got a break for third. From there, catcher Alex Avila tried to keep an eye on Escobar as he raced past him while also watching Moss. Avila stepped up to grab the ball in hopes of throwing Moss out at third, but couldn't get a grip.
Three pitches later, Gordon's fly ball sent Mahtook back enough that he couldn't get a charging start on the throw. He still got it home, but up the third-base line as Moss slid in to cap a crazy ninth inning with a Royals victory.
"Everyone did their job," Wilson said. "I didn't do a better one tonight."