KANSAS CITY -- One night after clinching their second consecutive American League Central Division championship, the Tigers' cast was missing many of its usual characters.
Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder were out before the end of the sixth inning. Starting pitcher Doug Fister was given the hook in the fifth after 79 pitches. Austin Jackson, Andy Dirks and Jhonny Peralta didn't make an appearance.
"You want to win every game, but that's not a necessity anymore," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said after his team's 4-2 loss to the Royals on Tuesday night.
The lack of regular starters might explain why Detroit was held to just two runs on six hits at Kauffman Stadium.
The word used around the Detroit clubhouse: relax.
"It was pretty good, just a little bit more relaxed," outfielder Quentin Berry said of the team's energy. "I think it's well deserved with the way that we've been playing lately, coming back and clinch the division. Take a step back and enjoy it and be smart about it."
"This is supposed to be a game where you want to win it, but you're supposed to relax a little bit," Leyland said. "You just have to work your fanny off even in games like this, because you've got some major decisions to make. A major decision being getting Fister out after a pitch count, making a decision on when to take Prince out and Miguel out. Jackson didn't play at all."
But not all the credit for Detroit's loss belongs on the visitors' shoulders. Royals starter Jeremy Guthrie was strong and effective like he has been most of the season's second half.
The right-hander has enjoyed a resurgence in Kansas City, something the Tigers have now experienced first-hand several times. This performance was reminiscent of the game here on Aug. 30, when he held the Tigers to just one run over 7 1/3 innings. On this night, he was nearly as hard to score on, allowing just two runs on five hits over six innings.
"He didn't miss over the middle of the plate too much," Berry said. "He was working the corners, mixing a lot of balls and strikes, but the strikes are right there on the corners. Any pitcher's going to be successful if you're doing that."
The only Tiger that caused Guthrie consistent headaches was -- who else? -- Miguel Cabrera, who is chasing baseball's first Triple Crown since 1967. He entered the game batting .304 in his career against Guthrie -- 7-for-23 with a pair of home runs and four RBIs. He went 2-for-3 in this one before leaving in the middle of the fifth inning, raising his AL-leading batting average to .331. It was Cabrera that temporarily gave Detroit the lead in the top of the third.
Trailing 1-0, Don Kelly led off with a well-struck ball to right field, which was caught by Jeff Francoeur. But it was a sign of things to come. Danny Worth walked, while Berry and Ramon Santiago singled to load the bases for Cabrera. He lined the first pitch of his at-bat into center field, bringing in two runs for a 2-1 lead.
The Tigers missed a chance to do more damage. After Cabrera's single, Fielder walked to again load the bases with only one out. But Delmon Young followed with a soft liner to second baseman Tony Abreu, who threw to Billy Butler to double Fielder off at first base and end the inning.
"We had a couple of those tonight," Berry said. "There's nothing you can do about that. Donny [Kelly] hit some balls hard tonight and came away with just one. A couple hits by [Avisail] Garcia and [Brayan] Holaday that could've sparked something, but they made good plays. They've got a great defensive club and good young players over there. Credit to them."
When Detroit took the field in the bottom half of the fifth, Cabrera was out of the game.
"You do a lot of things instinctively as a manager," Leyland said. "Some you can plan out, but they seem to never work out. But some you just kind of use instinctively. And I said, 'You know what? Three at-bats is enough.'"
One of Leyland's other managerial decisions was to lift Fister in the fifth after the right-hander gave up the slim one-run advantage. Back-to-back singles by Irving Falu and Jarrod Dyson to lead off the inning put runners at the corners with none out. Alcides Escobar -- who homered off Fister in the first to give the Royals an initial lead -- followed with a single through the left side of the infield to tie the game at 2.
A one-out walk to Butler loaded the bases, and that was the end of Fister's night. Luke Putkonen came on in relief, and the second pitch he threw was bounced to short by Salvador Perez. Worth flipped to Santiago for one out, but Santiago couldn't get a grip on the ball and Perez beat the throw to first to plate the go-ahead run.
Fister took his 10th loss of the season. His two-start run of extended outings was snapped with just 4 1/3 innings. He allowed three runs on seven hits and a pair of walks. In three starts against Kansas City this season, Fister went 1-1 with a 4.50 ERA.
"I'm not worried about him. He's fine," Leyland said. "The pitch count got up there where I just couldn't go anymore. I didn't really want to go more than 75. I was hoping with Butler we could get a double-play ball, but we didn't so I had to make the move. We've hopefully got bigger fish to fry, so I thought it was important to get him out of there."
Even with a playoff spot locked up, though, there will be drama in Wednesday's series finale as Cabrera's chase for the Triple Crown will come to an end, one way or the other. The question: Will the third baseman play?
"There won't be any debate if he wants to play," Leyland said. "If he wants to play, he'll play."
Vinnie Duber is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.