By the later innings Thursday, the series sweep was unavoidable. One day after Brian Bannister and two relievers blanked the Tigers, Zack Greinke continued Kansas City's mastery of what has been ranked among Detroit's best collection of hitters in years.
It was about a year and a half ago that the Royals last swept the Tigers over three games in Comerica Park. That series denied Detroit the American League Central title in 2006. This sweep didn't have such immediately dire ramifications, but it sure shook any aura about them.
"It's better that it happened now and not later," first baseman Carlos Guillen suggested. "We have to make adjustments."
From Leyland's view, they'd better. Far from the postseason, they've looked at times like the regular season started without them.
"We looked like a dead club," Leyland said after the game. "We looked like an old club. And we looked like we're not prepared. And that's the manager's responsibility, and I accept full responsibility for that."
Leyland did not have a big meeting with his players after the game, and he doesn't plan to at the moment because of the timing. Instead, he got his point across through his public comments. He wants the focus on preparation, not reflection.
"I haven't been satisfied with a lot of at-bats," Leyland said. "I think the key to it is you'll be all right if you prepare, you look at film, you maybe hit extra, you figure out what you're doing and you work at it. If you just think you'll be all right because you say you'll be all right, that won't happen. We won't be all right if we're not prepared, trying to fix what the problem is. I think a lot of it is mental, and you have to fix that yourself."
Some of the better at-bats came from Brandon Inge, who started at third base in place of the injured Miguel Cabrera. After drawing one of just two Detroit walks, he worked Greinke to a 3-1 count in his next at-bat before driving an offspeed pitch deep to left for his first home run on the season. It marked Detroit's first run since Carlos Guillen's game-tying solo homer in the eighth inning on Opening Day.
In between were 18 scoreless innings from a handful of Royals pitchers and more than a few frustrated Tiger batters. While Greinke's style differs from Bannister and the hard throwers in the Kansas City bullpen, the approach was the same: Throw strikes, get ahead in the count and force Detroit's vaunted hitters to swing at pitches they don't want.
"They kept the whole team off-balance," said second baseman Placido Polanco, whose first-inning single marked his first hit of the season. "We couldn't capitalize and score runs, and that's why we lost."
Reigning batting champion Magglio Ordonez had much the same vibe.
"We just don't have our rhythm," Ordonez said. "We don't put anything together. You have to give them credit. They're pitching good. And we're not hitting."
Unlike Wednesday, when Edgar Renteria's three-hit afternoon comprised all the hitting, the Tigers had more balance on Thursday. Polanco's single and Gary Sheffield's fifth walk of the year put runners at first and second with one out in the opening inning, and they had a similar opportunity in the fifth. Ordonez doubled leading off the bottom of the sixth inning for another opportunity.
None of them came around to score; the Tigers went 0-for-11 with runners in scoring position Thursday and 2-for-23 in the series.
Part of the credit went to Greinke. He went 0-2 with a 9.31 ERA against the Tigers last season, but he also pitched four scoreless innings against them near the end of August as part of a torrid second half that landed him back in the Royals rotation. On Thursday, he picked up where he left off, mixing speeds and changing the timing of Tiger bats.
"He mixes it up very well," Inge said. "But to say that one [Royals pitcher] was better than the other [isn't fair] when they pretty much shoved it against us. I would say as a pitching coach, if you wanted to write up some games on how you'd like to go along as starters, that's probably the way."
Leyland, too, credited Greinke, saying it looks like he has settled down to command his pitches. But he couldn't ignore what he was seeing from his hitters.
"He's been a guy that's had some of the better stuff in the league, but he just hadn't channeled it yet," Leyland said. "Now it looks like they've got him under good control. He pitched very well. But it's hard to gauge right now how well everybody's pitching, because we're just not swinging the bats very well.
"I really can't figure this out. I always credit the opposing pitchers when they pitch well, and they did, certainly. But at the same time, this is the big leagues, and our lineup's supposed to hit pretty good big league pitching."