All three games against Kansas City ended in one-run decisions -- the final two featuring solid pitching performances on both sides. Porcello allowed only two runs over five innings, but sustained his 10th loss of the year.
"He did great. He gave us a good chance to win that ballgame right there," Tigers outfielder Andy Dirks said. "But him -- and Anibal [Sanchez] pitched good the night before -- it's kind of one of those things where our offense didn't come through."
Porcello was sharp through the first four innings, allowing just three singles and a walk with no Royals player reaching second base. But he found himself in a tough situation in the fifth, loading the bases with none out. Royals second baseman Johnny Giavotella hit a slow bouncer to shortstop that resulted in an RBI fielder's choice and broke the scoreless tie.
The inning lasted 35 pitches for the Detroit right-hander, and he was quickly back on the hill following a seven-pitch top of the sixth. That's when he got into trouble. Alex Gordon belted his 10th home run of the season to lead off the inning and put Kansas City up by two. Billy Butler followed with a line shot double into the left-field corner, Salvador Perez singled up the middle and Porcello's night was over.
Darin Downs did a nice job in relief to end the inning with no further damage with a little help from his defense. Butler was at third when Downs' pitch got past Gerald Laird. The ball, however, bounced off the backstop and right to the catcher and his flip to Downs covering the plate retired Butler.
"We were fortunate enough to get out of that [fifth] inning with only one run. And then in the sixth inning: That's the inning where I've got to be able to close and get us back in the dugout. It didn't happen, obviously," Porcello said. "It could've been a lot worse. Downs came in and did a heck of a job not letting anybody score. ... The sixth inning just got away from me a little bit."
"It was a little bit strange because he was really on a roll, and that inning he got the ball up a little bit and the next inning he started to really get it up," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "I thought he was on a roll. It looked like he was going to have a real good night."
But for the second straight game, Kansas City's starter was just a bit better. Jeremy Guthrie followed Bruce Chen's eight scoreless innings on Wednesday with 7 1/3 of one-run baseball. Guthrie didn't allow anything more than a smattering of singles, aside from Prince Fielder's leadoff double in the sixth inning.
"I was going to go out there and throw strikes, and when you throw strikes, guys put some swings on them. The biggest thing was I was able to keep nine of them to singles and just allow one extra-base hit," Guthrie said. "That was kind of the big key in terms of allowing hits but no runs."
Detroit outhit Kansas City, 12-9. After the game, the Tigers lamented the lack of the big hit, with Leyland getting more specific.
"It just seems like -- first and second, one out -- in those situations we're not getting a tweener to clean the bases and have a guy at second, nobody out. We're not scoring both runs from first. It seems like that's kind of been an eyesore for us all year long," Leyland said.
"For the most part, we swung the bats decent. We just didn't get those hits at the right time, and that's been something that's really plagued us all year."
"We just didn't get the big hit with runners on," outfielder Brennan Boesch said. "We got hits but we didn't score runs. Obviously, when you get hits and don't score runs, those hits aren't doing any good."
The Tigers managed to get on the board late with Jhonny Peralta delivering an RBI single off reliever Tim Collins in the eighth shortly after Guthrie left the game. Guthrie allowed one run on 10 hits and earned his third win since joining the Royals.
The game's final play was emblematic of the close-but-no-cigar series for the Tigers. With runners at first and second and one out, Miguel Cabrera bounced a ground ball to second base. Giavotella flipped to Alcides Escobar, who leaped over a sliding Dirks. Escobar jumped and landed before making a throw to first base, and Cabrera was still out.
A sweep at the hands of the sub-.500 Royals comes at an inopportune time for the Tigers. The American League Central-leading White Sox dropped three of four in their recently completed series with the Orioles, but still managed to gain a half game in the standings.
"We're a much better team than what we showed these past three games," Porcello said. "I think for us to be looking at what Chicago's doing and what's happening with them would be a mistake. I think we need to focus on ourselves and playing good baseball. Chicago, they're going to do what they're going to do. We've got to go out there and play good baseball and win games, and see how it turns out. We can't sit around and wait for other teams to lose. We've got to take the bull by the horns and go out and simply beat teams.
"That's it: just win."
The Tigers and White Sox begin a three-game series at Comerica Park on Friday.