"Remember last year," said Brandon Inge, recalling the sweep that cost the Tigers a division title on the final weekend of last season. "We don't ever count them out. Ever."
On Friday, Gil Meche and Billy Butler never gave the Tigers a chance to try counting. While Meche's seven innings continued his frustration of Detroit's hitters, Butler's first career four-hit game spurred a Royal onslaught of Kenny Rogers, ending the Tigers' four-game winning streak without drama in a 10-2 loss at Comerica Park.
The Tigers came to town fresh off a sweep of three one-run victories against the Twins, paced by Detroit's solid pitching. Tigers hurlers had posted a Major League-best 3.41 ERA since June 24, and they were coming off a stretch against the Twins, Red Sox and Indians. The Royals, meanwhile, took two of three at Boston to extend their quiet tear to 12-7 since that same date. Their 3.48 ERA in that stretch was next-best in the American League.
Something was going to give on Friday. Once Meche spotted his curveball and two Royals hits combined with throwing errors to account for six runs, it wasn't the visitors.
Though Meche's victory improved his record to 6-4 lifetime against the Tigers, he has a history of keeping Detroit hitters off-balance from his days in Seattle. He threw three quality starts with two runs or less against Detroit last year, and his last outing here April 18 ended up a no-decision due to three unearned runs.
When he can locate his pitches, the Tigers generally have a hard time tracking him. When Inge saw his curve drop from over his head to over the plate for a called third strike in the fifth inning, he knew it was a rough night.
"He threw the best curveball I've ever seen," Inge said. "I just looked out there and I said, 'Wow.'"
Meche (7-6) allowed just three hits through his first five innings, one of them a solo homer from Gary Sheffield. Magglio Ordonez's sixth-inning single scoring Curtis Granderson was the closest Detroit, coming off eight runs in three games at the Metrodome, came to a sustained rally.
"The first inning or so, he wasn't getting it over too good," manager Jim Leyland said. "And then, all of a sudden, he was getting it over. His command was real good. He was outstanding. They just beat up on us tonight."
The Tigers overcame offensive struggles at Minnesota because pitching kept them in the game each day. Given Kenny Rogers' first three starts off the disabled list and heading into the All-Star break, it was easy to expect the same.
When Rogers allowed one run over 12 innings in his first two starts since coming back from arterial bypass surgery in his shoulder, even Leyland couldn't help but say he looked like he never left. His two starts since the break have finally showed some sign that he had been gone, though his downfall came from a small hit that had a big effect.
"I felt like I made a lot of good pitches," Rogers said, "just had bad results."
After Butler's lone out of the night plated the Royals' first run in the opening inning, he came up in the third after Rogers' only walk of the night loaded the bases. Butler passed on a first-pitch ball, then slapped a grounder through the middle. Two runs scored, then Mark Teahen came around when Granderson's throw to the plate went wide of catcher Ivan Rodriguez.
That, in effect, was the game. Another two-run single from David DeJesus and a run-scoring error from Timo Perez in the ninth against Jose Capellan put Kansas City into double digits.
Though Rogers struck out four, he generally could not induce Royals hitters to chase the pitches he wanted. His only extra-base hits allowed were three doubles, two of them back-to-back once he came out for the seventh, but the other five runs scored on Butler's single and two groundouts. The location wasn't completely off, but it wasn't exact.
"Not crisp, like you know he is when he's right," Leyland said.
Combined with his loss last Saturday at Seattle, Rogers has allowed 10 earned runs on 14 hits over 11 1/3 innings in the second half. It's not a brutal patch -- he had three pairs of such starts over the course of last season -- but it's an ironic turn after his surprisingly effective return from the DL.
"You're so fresh when you first come back," Leyland said, "and then I think you have to go through a little period after that, where now you've thrown a couple and you're getting back into it. Then it gets a little tired, and you have to build it back up again. I think that's probably what most of it's all about."
Rogers, for his part, said he felt fine Friday.
"I'll take what I had today," he said. "I'm not uncomfortable about what I did, but you've got to give them credit. They had a good approach tonight for the most part. They hit the ball the other way."
In so doing, the game got away from the Tigers quickly, no matter whether the Tigers anticipated it.
"They're a hot team," Sheffield said. "We played well. They just outplayed us today. They came in and took it from us. We just have to bounce back tomorrow."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less