Throughout a 10-game Royals winning streak, all that was missing was a crazy, come-from-behind, did-you-see-that kind of late rally for a win.
And Thursday the Royals had that chance against struggling Tigers closer Joe Nathan as they trailed, 2-1, entering the ninth. Instead, Nathan promptly struck out the meat of the Royals’ order — Billy Butler, Sal Perez and Lorenzo Cain — and the Royals’ long winning streak finally came to an end.
The good news is that the Royals are coming home still in first place in the AL Central, half a game ahead of Detroit. And this was a tremendous 6-1 road trip.
The Royals will need that kind of momentum as they begin a long homestand against three tough teams — the Mariners, Dodgers and Angels.
Hopefully, Alex Gordon will be available as the Royals certainly missed his bat Thursday. Gordon, the hottest Royal, was a late scratch with flu-like symptons.
"He came in this morning and was pretty sick," manager Ned Yost said on the FOX Sports Kansas City postgame show. "He tried to give it a go. We pumped two bags of fluids into him, and he tried to do his (routine) but he took a couple of swings (in batting practice) and started throwing up."
Coincidentally, the Royals looked sickly for the most part against Tigers starter Anibal Sanchez, who gave up just five hits in seven innings and one run.
"He gives a lot of people fits," Yost said. "He’s got three pitches he can get you out with. A guy like that you better get early and we got that one in the first, but that was about it."
— Billy continues to bang it. Butler drove in the Royals’ only run with a double in the first. He also doubled in the sixth. And Butler showed perhaps as much emotion as he has all season when he got called out in the ninth on a borderline strike on the outside corner. Butler barked at the home-plate umpire for several moments as he started back toward the dugout. Like to see that kind of anger once in a while from this Royals group.
— Great awareness by Aoki, Esky. The Royals took a run away from the Tigers in the fourth. After Miguel Cabrera blasted a double to tie the score, 1-1, Victor Martinez sent a fly to medium right. Cabrera tagged as Aoki caught the ball, but Cabrera got only a few feet off the bag as Aoki’s throw came into shortstop Alcides Escobar. Cabrera rather nonchalantly strolled back to the bag and it just so happened that Aoki’s throw was right on Esky’s glove near the bag. Esky quickly slapped a tag on Cabrera, who was ruled safe. But the Royals challenged and got an overturn for a big double play. J.D. Martinez homered next, but with no one on.
— Duffy was fantastic. Danny Duffy deserved a better fate. He had a no-hitter going into the fourth before Austin Jackson’s single. And the deciding hit — Martinez’s homer — was downright freaky. Duffy made a great pitch, a fastball that sank toward Martinez’s ankles. Martinez somehow got the barrel of the bat on it and lifted it toward right field. The ball, which at first seemed like it was going to be a routine out for Aoki, instead kept carrying and carrying and carrying. It landed just over the right-field fence. Duffy gave up just three hits — all in that fourth inning — and struck out five through seven outstanding innings.
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— Hosmer continues to struggle. While the rest of the Royals’ hitters have experienced a resurgence, Eric Hosmer has not yet hit his stride. He tossed in another 0-for-4 day, dropping his average to .256. And he hit four ground balls to second base, an indication he is overswinging and trying to pull every pitch. He also killed a potential rally in the eighth when the Royals had Aoki on first and one out. Hoz rolled a routine double-play grounder to second. End of threat.
— Had their chances. The Royals certainly had a couple of great chances to get more offense. The Royals had runners on second and third and two outs in the fifth, but Aoki grounded out to second. Butler doubled with two outs in the sixth, but Perez swung at a pitch out of the zone and fouled out. Perez also stranded Butler on second in the first.
— Good luck not there. The Royals benefited from some good fortune during the streak, but there wasn’t any on this day. Cain hit a wicked liner right to third baseman Nick Castellanos in the fifth. The next two Royals got hits, meaning that could have been the start of a big inning. And after Aoki singled to start the eighth, Omar Infante smacked a liner right at the shortstop. A couple feet either way and the Royals would have had runners on first and third with none out.