KANSAS CITY -- It was a measured gloom that settled over the Royals' clubhouse after their sixth straight loss on Tuesday night.
No panic, no fear, just some determined players and coaching staff eager to turn things around.
After a 3-1 loss to the first-place Detroit Tigers, the Royals found themselves with a 3-8 record -- exactly opposite that of the Central Division leaders -- and losses in all five home games so far.
"It stinks, being at home and struggling," reliever Greg Holland said. "This isn't the way we drew it up, but we can't let it go downhill from there."
That seemed to be the attitude. In an unusual postgame gathering, several players and a couple of coaches sat in a circle near the lockers of Alex Gordon, Mitch Maier and Jeff Francoeur to talk things over.
Billy Butler was in the middle of it all. The mood seemed light, stories were being told, a brew or two consumed. It was a scene lifted from an old-time clubhouse with guys sinking in their chairs, taking their time, just talking ball.
"They want to win, they don't want to play like this," manager Ned Yost had said a few minutes earlier. "You can see their intensity, they're geared up and they want to get the job done. At times you just need to take a little step back and let your natural ability take over."
Left-hander Bruce Chen had been in a 1-1 game with Tigers lefty Drew Smyly and the tie stood as the eighth inning began. Up came Andy Dirks, a left-handed batter that Tigers manager Jim Leyland had started in the designated hitter slot, instead of a right-handed bat, against Chen. Leyland said he just had a gut feeling.
Against the Royals lefty, Leyland could have played the percentages with a right-handed DH, such as Brandon Inge, who hit the game-winning homer on Monday night. Or he could have gone with righty Jhonny Peralta, who opened the Kansas City series with a 3-for-4 performance. But Inge was 1-for-23 lifetime against Chen and Peralta was 2-for-18.
"I just think my lefties have a better chance against Chen," Leyland said before the game.
Chen wasn't so sure about that theory.
"I was a left-handed specialist when I was at Houston, I was a left-handed specialist in my career so I know how to pitch to lefties," he said.
Indeed Chen had retired Dirks in his first two at-bats. In the eighth, however, Dirks singled to right field. So Yost turned to Holland, a right-hander who came in and fanned Austin Jackson. But Brennan Boesch lined a single to left with Dirks going to second.
Now the Royals needed a ground ball and a double play. Ground balls they got -- back-to-back singles up the middle by Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder -- but no double play. Just two runs scoring for the Tigers.
"That's exactly what we wanted Greg Holland to do, is come in and get ground balls and he did," Yost said. "It just happened that both of them were right over the middle of the bag and they weren't at our defenders. That's kind of the way things are going for us -- you get what you want but not in the place where you want it and you end up paying for it."
The Royals couldn't come back. Francoeur got a triple that skipped under Boesch in right field with two outs in the eighth, but was left at third as reliever Joaquin Benoit struck out Mike Moustakas. A one-out walk to Brayan Pena in the ninth came to naught and Jose Valverde closed out the game for a save.
The Royals had nine hits but were 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position. They got excellent pitching from Chen. And they lost -- again.
"I see them just fighting and just fighting, fighting, fighting," Yost said. "They're out there with every ounce that they've got to try and do something special to get us out of this streak. Sometimes it's just taking a step back and getting back to playing the game the way you did when you were 12 years old. And that's what they do best.
"They play with enthusiasm. They play with talent. But they also have a lot of fun with each other. And right now it's been a grind for them, so they need to just take a step back and get back to doing what they do best."
Over in the corner of the clubhouse, veteran players and coaches Kevin Seitzer and Steve Foster were going over things with younger guys like Moustakas, Eric Hosmer and Aaron Crow.
Some laughter flowed out of the group. They were having a little fun. They seemed relaxed, probably a good thing when times seem desperate and bleak. There are, after all, 151 games left to play.
"I feel like I'm pretty calm and collected on the mound but after the game, you're kind of beating your head against the wall," Holland said. "We just need to take a step back and relax. Me personally, yeah, but there are 24 other guys that need to do the same thing."
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.