DETROIT — The deflated postgame atmosphere in the Tigers’ clubhouse wore heavy. Francisco Rodriguez, having just blown his team’s lead for a loss, sat alone at his locker in the corner of the room. Within one strike of a six-game winning streak, he couldn’t pull the string. He couldn’t get the job done when it couldn’t have mattered more — so far.
“Painful. Disgusting. Shame. Everything,” K-Rod said, his face downtrodden. “It's definitely a bad position to fail the way that I just failed today. Just unacceptable. Just one pitch away, just one strike away, and I couldn't make one pitch. And the result is five runs after two outs, and pretty much the game locked up. So, it definitely hurts. This one hurts, big time.”
It wasn’t the 5 2⁄3 innings that Daniel Norris battled through, nor the four runs of support the offense provided that were in focus. Not even the bullpen, who put up 2 1⁄3 scoreless frames and kept the Royals at bay, provided a moment of levity. The Tigers, who had been a half-game ahead of the Orioles for possession of the second Wild Card, will either remain a half-game up of the Orioles or fall a half-game out depending tonight’s result.
Obviously, every game counts. But with eight games to go, a single loss can sting more than is usual, especially for the Tigers, who are fighting the Orioles for that last Wild Card spot. One game could make or break a season. It was not a loss Detroit could afford, but there’s nothing to be done about it now.
K-Rod’s results have been dependable of late. Even while he’s appeared shaky at times, he’s gotten the job done to the tune of a 0.60 ERA in 15 innings since Aug. 13. He’d given up one run in that time, and he hadn’t given up multiple in one outing since Aug. 9.
But five runs on Saturday tied his career high for runs allowed in an outing — he’s given up five thrice before, all no sooner than 2009. And Sept. 30, 2009 seems like another lifetime to have an implosion of that magnitude.
He lost his command. The naked eye could tell as much. K-Rod wasn’t sure if his concentration left him, too, though. Leadoff single to right, flyout to right, single to left, strikeout. With two outs and the crowd in the game, he delivered a pitch to Paulo Orlando right where he wanted it — at the knees.
Only, Orlando found a way to get to it and nailed the pitch over Cameron Maybin’s head in center for a two-run double. A 4-2 lead dissolved into a 4-4 tied ballgame, and suddenly the 14 stranded baserunners the Tigers had earlier in the game, loomed large. They’d had two bases-loaded and two two-on chances to score. None scored.
Despite the two runs, manager Brad Ausmus left K-Rod in the game. Nor had he considered getting his closer — he wasn’t going to consider it until the team trailed, which they ultimately did.
“I didn’t have an inkling at all (to take him out), when we were down to one strike to get out of it,” Ausmus said. “I was very confident in him. ... It’s a tie game. You usually use your closer in a tie game in the ninth, as well.”
The result that followed was a walk to Cheslor Cuthbert and a three-run bomb by Eric Hosmer to right, bashing the final nail into the coffin of the Tigers’ chances. Win streak over, loss secured — and with the bottom of the Tigers’ order in the bottom of the ninth, that’s just what happened against Kelvin Herrera.
It’s not over until it’s over, and the Tigers have recovered from far worse this year. But now there’s just not much room for mistakes. For as much as K-Rod is credited with the loss, and rightfully so, the offense had an abundance of opportunities to put a hurt on Kansas City. They couldn’t twist the knife.
The Tigers have one more game against the Royals before facing the first-place Indians for four games to close out the home portion of the season. Then, it’s on to Atlanta for the final three games of the year against the Braves. There are a few chances yet, but that doesn’t help soften the blow of Saturday’s grim loss.
“The wheels fell off,” K-Rod said. “I just definitely — I let my team down today. Simple as that, I let everybody down. That's why I wanna apologize to them, and the fans. They shouldn't have to see that. Especially when we're in the position that we're in right now. Definitely this one's on me, big time.”