The way the Tigers are going offensively, however, the Royals had reason to play it safe in the field -- and in one key spot, they did. With nine runners left on base and a 1-for-7 performance with runners in scoring position, the Tigers turned Nate Robertson's best outing of the season into an effort to keep his team in the game while dueling Zack Greinke and the Royals bullpen.
It was another night of frustration from Detroit's hitters, but it brought a unique ending. With a chance to try to kill a Royals rally in the eighth, Renteria attempted a no-look flip behind his back for a potential force out at second base. When his flip missed, Esteban German dashed home with the deciding run for the Royals.
Once Kansas City closer Joakim Soria sent down Detroit in order in the ninth, the Tigers had their seventh loss in their last nine games.
"You just don't like to waste those kinds of pitching performances," manager Jim Leyland said.
Robertson had to gear down from his rained-out start against the Yankees on Sunday, take a day off, then suit up for the Royals in the series opener. But Tuesday resulted in a little more of Robertson's old form, that of the aggressive left-hander who gave up hits but turned up outs with runners on.
Jose Guillen's third-inning double brought in the only runs Robertson allowed all night. He grew stingy from there, stranding runners in scoring position in the third, fourth and fifth before retiring seven of the final eight hitters he faced. Fifty-three of his 82 pitches went for strikes.
Nevertheless, Guillen's double also was enough to keep the game tied. Matt Joyce's second big league homer, a second-inning solo shot, accounted for Detroit's final run, though the Tigers had multiple runners on four other occasions.
"We didn't have an easy task against us, but we had enough that one hit here or there breaks it open a little bit," Leyland said. "We didn't get it."
It was a more mundane play behind second base that kept the game tied in the sixth -- ironically, with Renteria at the plate. His line drive sent Grudzielanek diving up the middle to smother the ball behind second base, forcing Miguel Cabrera to stay at third, rather than go home.
Greinke took advantage, firing three fastballs up the ladder and past Ivan Rodriguez for the third out.
Grudzielanek played a different role in getting Robertson out of the game after seven innings. His three hits improved his numbers to 8-for-9 off of Robertson, and it was him leading off the eighth that prompted Leyland to go to Francisco Cruceta.
Cruceta, in turn, was a strike away from retiring the side in order when Guillen struck again, this time lining a full-count changeup to the left-field wall. A four-pitch walk to Billy Butler set up the potential force play at second base when Mark Teahen hit a hard ground ball up the middle.
Renteria didn't have to dive, but instead ranged behind second to run down the ball and force pinch-runner Esteban German to hold up at third. Had he stopped there, he would've had the bases loaded for Cruceta to face John Buck.
Renteria, however, felt like he had a play.
"It's a tough, tough play," Renteria said. "But in the situation, you have to take the best chance. I thought it was my best chance. That's why I flipped the ball."
However, his momentum towards right field carried not only him, but the ball. The flip was wide enough that Polanco had no chance to block the ball as it rolled back towards the mound and German broke for home.
"It's really hard," Polanco said of the chance. "He caught it running, so he threw it moving. It's a tough throw right there, and he tried, you know? I was alert to [be ready to] block it, but it was far."
Leyland called it an in-between play.
"If the throw's right to Polly, the guy's out and that's a great play," Leyland said. "It's one of those that's hit in the right spot."
Ross Gload, who pinch-ran for Butler on the play and was heading for second, sounded a similar tone.
"If they get me at second, it's a great play," he said. "If they take it and turn and check home and no one scores, it forces us to get another hit. But it's an aggressive play. You play for the out there."
Even if Renteria had made the play -- or if he held onto the ball and Cruceta had retired Buck -- the Tigers still would've needed to score a run off of the Royals bullpen to win, something that has proven extremely difficult for them this season. Still, a stop could have been a momentum builder.
As it is, they're still looking for momentum before it's too late to do anything with it.