DETROIT -- What looked like another step in the Tigers' charge toward the American League playoffs became a potentially costly stumble in the ninth, courtesy of a Royals rally reminiscent of last year. Eric Hosmer's go-ahead three-run homer punctuated a five-run ninth off Francisco Rodriguez, propelling Kansas City to a 7-4 win Saturday in front of a stunned Comerica Park crowd.
The loss ended Detroit's five-game winning streak and dropped the Tigers out of playoff position, with the Orioles beating the D-backs at night to take sole possession of the second AL Wild Card spot. With the Blue Jays' 3-0 win over the Yankees, the Tigers are two games out of the first AL Wild Card.
"We have to just continue to have fun with this challenge," center fielder Cameron Maybin said. "It's going to be a challenge. It isn't going to be easy, but we have to continue to enjoy it, play hard."
The Tigers took a 4-2 lead into the ninth, but the Royals denied them more by stranding 14 Detroit baserunners. Daniel Norris and three relievers carried the lead to the ninth for Rodriguez, who was 44-for-48 in save opportunities entering the day. Singles from Alex Gordon and Hunter Dozier brought the tying run to the plate, but Rodriguez was a strike away from thwarting the threat.
"One pitch away, one strike away, and I couldn't make one pitch," Rodriguez said. "The result of that is obviously five runs after two outs, and pretty much the game wrapped up. It definitely hurts. This one hurts, big time."
Paulo Orlando chased a 2-2 pitch from Rodriguez at the knees but over the plate and drilled it over center fielder Cameron Maybin's head and to the wall for a game-tying two-run double. Cheslor Cuthbert's walk extended the inning for Hosmer, whose 24th home run turned the game around.
"Obviously these are huge games for them right now," Hosmer said of the Tigers. "They're right in the thick of things in the Wild Card. It was kind of a flashback of what we do. We keep it close to the end, we're hard to put away as a team and it was good to see signs of that same team we all remember."
Royals starter Yordano Ventura left after facing one batter in the fifth because of lower back tightness and spasms. Royals manager Ned Yost said he believed Ventura would make his final start of the season next weekend.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Kinsler creates havoc: The Tigers didn't do much against Ventura the first time through the order, but Ian Kinsler changed the pace the second time around with his legs. His slow roller caused miscommunication between Ventura and Kendrys Morales as Kinsler reached with a leadoff single in the third. An errant pickoff from Ventura allowed Kinsler to take third, where Maybin's bouncer through the middle sent him home with Detroit's first run.
"That's kind of what we've had with Ventura," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. "We get some hits, we get on base, but a lot of times we have a little trouble pushing runs across. The truth is, we did today. We pushed enough runs across to have the lead."
K-Mo hits No. 30: Morales homered to lead off the sixth, a towering shot to center field projected by Statcast™ to travel 433 feet. Morales became the 10th player in Royals history to hit 30 or more homers. He also became the first to hit 30 since Jermaine Dye hit 33 in 2000.
"I didn't know that [about Dye]," Morales said through interpreter Pedro Grifol. "But to hit 30 is extremely difficult. I'm glad I was able to do it."
Morales' career high in homers for a season is 34. Can he top that?
"We've got seven games left and I just got to hit the ball in the air and see what happens," Morales said.
Norris uses K to escape trouble: The Royals sapped Daniel Norris for 100 pitches over 5 2/3 innings, but he limited the damage in part with six strikeouts. None were more important than the 94-mph fastball he induced Hosmer to chase off the plate with two on and a full count with two outs in the fifth. More >
Big hit for Orlando: Orlando roped a 2-2 pitch in the ninth off Rodriguez that one-hopped the center-field wall, a double that scored Gordon and pinch-runner Terrance Gore, who came on for Dozier, who had singled. The speedy Gore nearly caught Gordon near home plate and scored easily with the tying run.
"I remember the last time I faced him at home, he threw a lot of changeups," Orlando said. "I say, 'OK, I'll wait for a changeup and just try to put the ball in play.' I got a pretty good swing on it."
K-Rod clobbered: The presence of Gore as the tying run affected Rodriguez, who did not want to go to a full count on Orlando and let Gore get a running start. Thus, instead of burying his 2-2 pitch, he put it at the knees, still around the strike zone.
"That's where I wanted it," Rodriguez said of the pitch. "But sometimes you have to be careful what you wish for." More >
"This is what it's all about. This is what I've been looking forward to the last seven years playing at the highest level. This is what it's all about, man. It hurts, but it's still fun, to be able to be in this situation to still do something special." -- Maybin, on playoff race
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Rodriguez hadn't allowed a left-handed batter to reach base since Aug. 18, according to Inside Edge, until Gordon led off the ninth with a single. However, five of the six home runs Rodriguez has allowed this season have come from the left side.
WHAT'S NEXT Royals: Right-hander Edinson Volquez (10-11, 5.25 ERA) starts for the Royals in Sunday's 12:10 p.m. CT rubber game. Volquez is coming off his best start in nearly two months Tuesday against Cleveland: 6 2/3 innings, four hits, one run, five strikeouts.
Tigers:Matt Boyd (6-4, 4.16) starts Sunday's 1:10 p.m. ET series finale hoping to follow up on his eight innings of one-run ball Tuesday at Minnesota. He also has a chance to avenge the seven runs on eight hits the Royals scored against him in 3 2/3 innings on June 13 in Kansas City.