That euphoric feeling was jolted when the unheralded Royals opened the season at Comerica Park with a three-game sweep.
The Tigers never seemed to recover.
The Royals pounced on the Tigers, 10-4, on Wednesday night to sweep another three-game series and take a solid grasp of fourth place in the AL Central. The Tigers were left on the cellar floor.
Shades of early April.
"That was a long time ago," Royals pitcher Brian Bannister said. "I started my season on this mound with a win and ended the season on this mound with a win."
Intent on ending a string of four last-place finishes, the Royals got six shutout innings from Bannister, (9-16). And they gave him the luxury of seven runs in the fifth inning.
The sweep gave the Royals a 7-2 mark this season at Comerica and 11-7 overall against the Tigers.
"I think the most satisfying thing this whole series was how the team is playing," Bannister said. "I think the guys right now have a lot of fire. We're playing well together. This month, I think, is the most special month since I've been here as far as how we've played as a team. The guys are going out there and not just getting runs, but putting teams away and giving the pitching staff a ton of confidence."
The Royals have a 16-7 record in September.
"Too bad this isn't our August," catcher John Buck said, recalling the Royals' dreary 7-20 month. "It's a step forward that we need to realize, take, use and finish up strong so we have some good momentum going into the offseason."
The Royals' big fifth inning began with Mitch Maier's single against starter Nate Robertson. The Royals batted around and, in his second at-bat in the inning, Maier ripped a bases-loaded triple into the right-field corner off reliever Chris Lambert.
"There were some walks, and they took Robertson out and Lambert is a guy I've seen before, so I was comfortable against him," Maier said. "He gave me a pitch to hit, right down the middle, and I was able to drive it into the corner."
Maier had faced Lambert, then a prospect in the St. Louis Cardinals' system, in the Double-A Texas League.
The Royals had just four hits in the inning with the generous Tigers contributing four walks, including two with the bases jammed. Alex Gordon had an RBI single in the mix.
That gave Bannister a 9-0 lead.
"A lot of times you'll see pitchers get comfortable and teams will start inching their way back, but Banny pitched great," Maier said.
Bannister wrapped his season with six shutout innings in which he gave up seven hits, all singles. The shutout ended in the seventh when Mike Hessman homered against reliever Kip Wells. And, in the ninth, reliever Ron Mahay was clipped for a three-run blast by Placido Polanco.
The Tigers lost for the 12th time in 13 games. The Royals have won 11 of their last 13 games and they now have a one-game lead over the Tigers.
"We're just in a horrible funk," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "We're way out of sync right now, and we have been for a little bit. It's not a matter of guys not caring, guys not trying. That's not it. We're just in a year-end funk, and to be honest with you, I think it plays mind games with you. You're trying to run as hard as you can, and sometimes you can't.
"Kansas City, I thought they kicked our fannies. They're pumped up. They're trying to accomplish something -- obviously to stay ahead of us. I don't mean to say it's any different for us, but I'm sure the games between the White Sox and Minnesota [this week] are a little more intense -- crowd, players, meaningful games."
Bannister could certainly see that Royals pump house working.
"We're just putting the pressure on. -- we're getting a lot of long balls recently and it's the big innings, not getting a run here and there," Bannister said. "We keep getting runs and it's exciting to see because I think a lot of the young guys are breaking out."
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less