KANSAS CITY -- In all likelihood, James Shields is in his final months as a member of the Royals starting rotation. Just one game on Sunday, an All-Star Break, and one-half season to go.
This is the way baseball works, of course. Shields will be a free agent in the offseason. He will likely command nine figures in salary. For a team like the Royals, that's one too many zeros.
This is context, of course, for what happened at Kauffman Stadium on Saturday night. Shields worked seven innings, threw a season-high 121 pitches, and generally looked like the workhorse ace he's been since he arrived in Kansas City in a blockbuster deal before the 2013 season.
The Royals lost anyway, falling 5-1 to Detroit in front of a crowd of 33,849 on a muggy evening. It was the Royals' fourth straight loss. The offense was dysfunctional again. They are now just one game over .500 at 47-46. And, yes, they are now 7 1/2 games behind the AL Central-leading Tigers, 53-37.
You might know that they close out the season's first half on Sunday with a date with former Cy Young winner Justin Verlander. But let's get back to the Royals' ace.
Shields threw a season-high 121 pitches, including 12 during a rather dominant seventh inning, keeping the Royals' in a one-run game. He was also victim from a rather unsavory trend: For the ninth time in the last two years, Shields picked up a loss when giving up three earned runs or less.
So it goes.
Detroit starter Rick Porcello allowed just one run while scattering six hits in seven innings. The Royals' offense left six runners on base. And reliever Aaron Crow yielded three runs in the ninth on a solo homer from J.D. Martinez and a two-run blast from Alex Avila.
Now the Royals will recharge and face Verlander on Sunday afternoon in the series finale, trying to salvage something as the All-Star Break looms. That's the same Verlander who was knocked around for seven runs and 12 hits in an 11-8 loss to Kansas City on June 16 in Detroit.
One night after going one for 11 with runners in scoring position, the Royals offense stayed in neutral. Here was one representative sample: In the bottom of the fifth, Billy Butler splashed a doubled off the left-field foul line; Mike Moustakas walked; and Noki Aoki loaded the bases with a two-out walk.
That brought Lorenzo Cain to the plate -- the same Cain who entered the night hitting a team-leading .313. He promptly went down swinging against Porcello.
The Royals finally touched home plate in the bottom of the sixth, cutting the Tigers' lead to 2-1 on a sacrifice fly from Billy Butler. The rally had begun with back-to-back singles from Salvador Perez and Omar Infante, and when Butler lined one to medium depth in center, Perez didn't hesitate. He scored easily.
The Tigers nicked Shields for one run in the top of the third, when center fielder Austin Jackson continued his weekend-long evisceration of Royals pitching. Jackson, who entered the night with four hits in the series, cracked a double to deep right-center and scored on an RBI single from Ian Kinsler.
Shields settled back down by striking out Miguel Cabrera to end the inning, but the Tigers tacked on another run in the top of the fourth. Lifetime Royal killer Torii Hunter bludgeoned a ball over the head of center fielder Jarrod Dyson, and after a solid relay throw from shortstop Alcides Escobar, Mike Moustakas was slow to apply the tag and Hunter slid in safely with a one-out triple.
Shields rebounded by striking out Nick Castellanos before Alex Avila scored Hunter with a two-out, RBI single.
Shields kept grinding, and worked through the seventh. But Detroit already had all the offense it needed.
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