DETROIT -- Say that your team makes five errors and also strikes out nine consecutive times. What are your chances?
Not as bad as you might imagine. Despite all those shortcomings, the Royals managed to make the first-place Detroit Tigers sweat bullets before succumbing, 5-4, on Thursday afternoon with 33,019 revved-up fans populating Comerica Park. The walk-off victory assured the Tigers of retaining their lead over the Chicago White Sox in the American League Central.
The Tigers swept the four-game series from the Royals, who have lost five straight. The Royals were down, 4-0, after two innings to right-hander Doug Fister who set an American League record with nine straight strikeouts, but they caught up in the ninth before losing.
"We didn't get into it until right at the end," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "But it just shows you the makeup of our club. As far out as you can be, and then come back and tie it in the ninth inning -- it's a special group of kids that keeps getting after it."
It was a wild finish. As fate would have it, two Royals backup players, shortstop Tony Abreu and first baseman Brayan Pena -- who were in the game because of injuries to regulars Alcides Escobar and Eric Hosmer -- were involved in crucial fielding plays. Prince Fielder led off the Tigers' ninth with a chopper just over the glove of diminutive left-hander Tim Collins.
"I thought I had a shot at it. I took a pretty good jump at it," Collins said.
Abreu charged at the ball from shortstop, tried to bare-hand it and missed. The ball rolled into center field and Fielder was able to lumber to what surely was the shortest double of his career.
"I'm never going to get on a guy for trying to make a play. It's a do-or-die play," Yost said. "If he comes up clean, he's got a chance of throwing him out and none of that happens."
But it did. With Fielder at second, Delmon Young was intentionally walked and pinch-hitter Ramon Santiago bunted into a forceout at third. Right-hander Kelvin Herrera replaced Collins and Jhonny Peralta hit what looked like an inning-ending double-play grounder to Mike Moustakas. But the third baseman booted the ball, his third error of the game, and the bases were loaded.
"No excuses for that, it's a play that has to be made," Moustakas said. "Kelvin did a great job getting a ground ball to me and I just missed it. No excuses for it."
On a 3-2 pitch, Alex Avila hit a sharp grounder that was stabbed by a diving Pena, the substitute first baseman. His immediate reaction was to try for a forceout at home.
"Yeah, definitely. I dove and I saw Avila coming my way so I had no shot," Pena said. "So I just took the out, for whatever it was worth."
There wasn't much Pena, who was sitting on the ground with the ball, could do. Avila was out, but pinch-runner Don Kelly crossed the plate with the winning run.
Before that, Billy Butler played hero for the Royals. Leading off the ninth against Tigers reliever Joaquin Benoit, Butler sent a 1-1 pitch into the right-field seats for a 4-4 tie. It was his 28th home run this season, but his first against the Tigers.
A lot happened before those ninth-inning dramatics.
Fister struck out nine consecutive Royals -- every man in the batting order -- in the middle of the game to set an AL record. He fell short of the Major League mark of 10 straight established by Tom Seaver of the New York Mets on April 22, 1970.
The old AL mark of eight, by the way, was shared by the Royals' Blake Stein who did it on June 17, 2001, in a loss at Milwaukee.
Through the first seven innings, the only hit off Fister was Salvador Perez's single to center in the second inning. The only other runner was Jeff Francoeur, who was hit by a pitch in the same inning after narrowly missing a home run on a drive that curved foul.
"The first seven innings, the one mistake he made might have been that one pitch to me. I just missed it," Francoeur said.
But Moustakas and Francoeur started the eighth against Fister with back-to-back doubles to break up his shutout in what became a three-run inning for the Royals. Fister wound up with a total 10 strikeouts and zero walks in his 7 2/3 innings.
"Really it was a simple thing of one pitch at a time," Fister said. "There was no focus on what happened, where guys were playing or anything else. It was just a matter of, 'Hey let's make this pitch here and make it happen.' "
His string of nine straight strikeouts started with Perez looking at strike three in the fourth and ended on Perez's groundout to short in the seventh.
The game started sloppily for the Royals and luckily for the Tigers.
In the first inning, third baseman Moustakas -- who's been the epitome of defensive excellence this season -- made two errors on one play, a bobble of Quintin Berry's grounder followed by a wild throw. That ended his streak of errorless games at 47.
Alex Gordon also was charged with an error in the inning and both runs against Royals starter Luis Mendoza were unearned. Escobar made a throwing error in the second inning ahead of Berry's two-run triple.
However, the Royals also had some defensive gems -- Gordon made a diving catch of a foul ball and also threw out two runners on the bases. Center fielder David Lough slammed into the wall to catch a Fielder wallop.
This was no giveaway.
"We battled hard, that's what I'm most proud of," Francoeur said.
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.