In the biggest game of the biggest series in decades, in front of a standing-room-only hometown crowd at Kauffman stadium, on national television, the Royals laid a big old smelly egg for the second day in a row. To put it bluntly – they choked, in true Royals fashion.
The pivotal play of the game came in the home-half of the sixth inning, with the teams tied at one run apiece. Eric Hosmer was on 2nd base and Salvador Perez on 3rd, with one out. Omar Infante lined out to Tigers 2nd baseman Ian Kinsler, who attempted to double Hosmer off at 2nd, but shortstop Eugenio Suarez failed to handle the throw and the ball dribbled into left field, allowing Perez to score the lead run from 3rd and Hosmer to advance. Unfortunately for the Royals, Perez inexplicably failed to tag up on the play, and after a lengthy and slightly confusing appeal / challenge / non-challenge / re-evaluation process, the umpires finally got the call right and ruled Perez out, which negated the run and ended the threat.
Where’s Don Denkinger when you need him? Probably chowing down on the early-bird special at his local diner (he’s 78 now).
Of course the Tigers scored two runs immediately following Perez’s blunder. You know the rest.
The Royals would make it interesting against always-shaky Tigers closer Joe Nathan in the ninth. Jarrod Dyson singled (his third hit of the game) with one out. Alcides Escobar singled (his fourth hit on the day). Then Nori Aoki grounded out for the second out, but the runners advanced to 3rd and 2nd base. But the game ended when pinch-hitter Raul Ibanez and his .168 batting average shockingly failed to deliver a big two-out hit.
This was a typically frustrating game for Royals fans from the very beginning. Alcides Escobar led off with a ringing double in the bottom of the first, which brought up Aoki — “the hottest hitter on the planet” — who promptly gave himself up with a sacrifice bunt. Tigers pitcher Max Scherzer — a strikeout artist — happily accepted the gift out from a batter who was 13 for his last 16, then rudely struck out Josh Willingham and Alex Gordon.
Is that any way to treat your fellow Missourians, Max? By smashing all of our dreams to smithereens? Royals hitters were 2-11 with runners in scoring position on the day. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
Aoki would again give himself up via the sac bunt in the third inning, with runners on 1st and 2nd and nobody out. You could hear the boos from the crowd. Scherzer then retired Willingham on a weak pop-up before once-again striking out Gordon, stranding the runners. Again.
Meanwhile, Royals starting pitcher James Shields was dealing. He gave up just one run through the first six innings; a solo-shot from salty-old-vet Tori Hunter, before wobbling a bit in the seventh in the wake of his battery-mate’s big screw-up, when he gave up two more runs on a walk, three singles and a wild pitch. Overall, Royals pitching was solid as usual. But they have to be near-perfect these days to get a win, given the inability of the offense to score. It’s pitiful, and wildly frustrating to witness.
Why have your hottest hitter sacrifice so early in the game, when he’s followed in the batting order by a high-strikeout hitter, and you’re facing a high-strikeout pitcher, and opposing a high-powered offense that’s almost surely going to score more than a few runs?
The reality is that the Royals just don’t have the roster to stay with a championship-caliber team like the Tigers, which is why they’ve been thoroughly dominated by them on the season. KC has more speed, better defense, and a better bullpen, but their starting staff is inferior to Detroit’s, and their offense isn’t even in the same ballpark (figuratively, of course).
Royals fans only real hope is for their team to get hot quick (they’re capable – we’ve seen it), and to catch opponents when they’re cold. In short series, any team can win – even one with lesser talent. But they’ve got to get an invitation to the dance to get a chance, and time is running out. In spite of these two big losses, the Royals still have an outside chance to catch the Tigers, and a real shot at a wild card nod. But they’d better shake off the yips, and start winning – fast. Otherwise, things are going to get ugly in cowtown.