Royals can't back a strong Ponson

Royals can't back a strong Ponson

KANSAS CITY -- Pitcher Sidney Ponson was at the top of his game but the Royals' hitters were not. As a result, the Royals no longer are at the top of the standings.

The Detroit Tigers won, 3-2, on Sunday at Kauffman Stadium and took over undisputed first place in the American League Central. The early returns give the Tigers a 10-8 record, now one game ahead of the Royals and the Chicago White Sox, both 9-9.

Only 144 games to go.

Ponson, in his fourth Kansas City start, made 100 good pitches and one bad one. The latter was a middle-of-the-plate, too-high-up slider to Brandon Inge, who bashed it over the left-field bullpen for a 2-0 lead in the second inning.

"He hit it out. It wasn't down," Ponson said. "I don't make excuses. It was one bad pitch and it put us in the hole."

The home run followed a single to left by Jeff Larish.

"That slider was probably the only pitch I saw from him all day that was middle of the plate," Inge said. "He did a great job today. He's been at it many years and has been a great pitcher."

Ponson was very good on Sunday, pitching eight solid innings. What turned out to be the winning run scored in the fifth, when Josh Anderson singled to right and got around on a stolen base, a groundout and Dane Sardinha's sacrifice fly.

Actually, the Tigers had tried to get Anderson home on a squeeze play, but Ponson caught on quickly, threw a high inside pitch and Sardinha bunted foul.

"Up and in, see if he can pop it up," Ponson said. "Got a foul ball on it, so he was lucky it didn't hit him. Normally, the pitcher will hit a guy there and it's a dead ball. The guy has to go back to third and he goes to first. But I threw it up and hoped he'd pop it up and we'd get two outs but it didn't work out that way."

No, and Sardinha hit his sac fly to center.

Meantime, the Royals could sustain little against right-hander Armando Galarraga. They picked up a run in the third on Coco Crisp's one-out walk, Mark Teahen's infield hit and Jose Guillen's lined single to center. Then Mike Jacobs walked to load the bases, but Alberto Callaspo grounded out.

"I just don't think we were squaring him up too much," Jacobs said. "If you asked him, he probably would say he didn't have his best stuff. That one inning, he threw 30-some pitches and he came back out the next inning [the fourth] and he only threw six. That's not a very good job by us."

True, in his six innings Galarraga gave up just three hits, but he walked five and hit a batter, and the Royals couldn't capitalize on that.

"The bottom line is we've got to get a big hit, get the offense going and plate some runs," Royals manager Trey Hillman said. "When you have that few hits, even though it's a one-run game and you're leaving that many people on base, you're just not clickin'."

The Tigers' bullpen didn't allow anything until closer Fernando Rodney served up a 2-2 hanging changeup to slumping Mike Aviles, who was an untidy 2-for-25 to that point in the ninth inning.

Aviles pounded a home run over the left-field fence, his first of the season, to slice the Tigers' lead to one. But Rodney retired Crisp and David DeJesus to end the game.

So the division lead was lost along with two of three games to the Tigers.

But at least Ponson was wired in, issuing no walks and getting seven strikeouts -- the most he's had since May 6, 2005, when he was with Baltimore and fanned eight Royals.

"I'm surprised I struck out seven today," he said. "I pitch for contact, that's the way I look at it. The quicker I get outs, the deeper I go in the game, so I don't care about strikeouts."

Even so, against the Tigers, he began by striking out Curtis Granderson and Placido Polanco each on three pitches. Then Magglio Ordonez rolled on his eighth pitch of the inning.

Very promising beginning.

"I struck out the side one time and, in the second inning, I [got hit hard], so it doesn't mean if you throw one good inning you're going to have a good game," Ponson said. "You've got to keep concentrating on what you need to do and go with your game plan. My game plan was easy today, but I threw one bad slider and it cost us two runs and that was the difference."

And, after 13 straight days of being in first place or at least tied for the lead, the Royals no longer were on top.

Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.