KANSAS CITY -- It's been a season of extreme highs and lows for the Royals and they experienced a real downer on Friday night.
Riding the euphoria of a hot streak, a dramatic victory and rising playoff hopes, the Kansas City club took a 16-2 pounding from the first-place Detroit Tigers at Kauffman Stadium.
An expectant crowd of 21,358 fans turned out, but they didn't expect this. The Royals' staff leader, James Shields, was chased in the fourth inning and charged with 10 runs on 14 hits. Anibal Sanchez, the American League ERA leader (2.61), held the Royals to one run on seven hits in his seven innings.
The Royals had won nine of their previous 12 games and were coming off a 13-inning win over Seattle before taking this drubbing.
Players on both clubs shrugged off the significance of the lopsided score.
It was just one loss for the Royals.
"You've just got to take for what it is and look at the bright side," left fielder Alex Gordon said. "It's a loss and that's all."
And it was just one win for the Tigers.
"Whether you win by 20 or by one, it counts the same," said their left fielder, Andy Dirks.
Dirks went 5-for-5 with a walk and scored four runs with one RBI. Omar Infante also went 5-for-5, knocked in six runs and scored twice. Austin Jackson, Prince Fielder and Alex Avila each had three hits.
Of the Tigers' 26 hits, just one was by the Major Leagues' leading batter, Miguel Cabrera. He ripped an RBI single off Shields, which is nothing new since he's now 17-for-40 (.425) in his career against the right-hander.
Shields had always been pretty successful against the Tigers, 6-2 and a 3.27 ERA in 13 previous starts, but not this time around. They rattled off six hits and five runs in the second inning. He lasted just two outs into the fourth.
"It wasn't a good outing tonight," Shields said. "I actually went back and looked at my video and a lot of the pitches they hit were below the strike zone. That's a good hitting team over there and I didn't do my job tonight. Obviously, we've got to move forward but that was a terrible job by me."
Shields played Houdini in the third inning, escaping without a run after three straight singles loaded the bases with no outs. Shields picked Dirks off third, then struck out the next two batters.
The pickoff was Shields' third this season and the 27th of his career since joining Tampa Bay in 2006. That ties him for fifth among active pitchers in that span and he's the only right-hander among the top five.
That, however, was the highlight of his night.
The 10 runs and 14 hits against Shields matched his career highs, or lows.
"It was just one of those freak games," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "James just didn't have it tonight and we were able to take advantage."
Perhaps familiarity figured in Shields' downfall. This was the fifth time he'd faced Detroit this season.
"When you're facing a team so many times throughout the year they're going to know exactly what I've thrown. There are no secrets. It's kind of a chess game from then on out," Shields said. "I felt like I was getting ahead of some pitches they were hitting but that's probably the best hitting team in the league right now."
As Luis Mendoza, who relieved Shields, also found out. He gave up five runs on eight hits and three walks in his 3 1/3 innings.
In the Tigers' fifth, Infante belted a bases-loaded double high off the left-field wall against Mendoza. Leyland wondered if it might be a grand slam, the umpires took a look and said no. So Infante had to settle for three of his six RBIs on that hit.
With the score 13-1 at that point, Royals manager Ned Yost had begun to make some substitutions to give his regulars a break. One of them was catcher Salvador Perez, whose departure after four innings had nothing to do with the dizziness he'd felt in Thursday's game. He stayed on the bench and got some rest.
Sanchez wheeled through seven innings with few problems. The only run off him came in the first inning. Gordon led off with a double and was bunted to third, but was thrown out at home on Eric Hosmer's grounder to first baseman Fielder. Hosmer stole second, scored on Billy Butler's single and, very briefly, the Royals had the lead, 1-0.
The 16 runs were the most scored against KC since Cleveland ran up 19 on May 16, 2011.
The 26 hits were just one shy of the most ever given up by Royals pitchers. The Tigers got 27 on May 27, 2004, and, oddly enough, six of those hits happened to be by Carlos Pena, who played for KC on Friday night.
"I just felt like if the ball was over the plate, I was going to blast it that day, and I did," Pena recalled. "It was awesome."
That must have been how the Tigers felt in this blowout.
They jumped back from a 20-4 trouncing they had absorbed on Wednesday in Boston. The Royals are hoping they can accomplish the same thing against Justin Verlander on Saturday night.
Kansas City is now nine games behind Detroit in the AL Central, but it's nurturing Wild Card hopes, sitting 4 1/2 games back of the second spot.
"We're still in it," Shields said. "We still have some games to go."
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.