DETROIT Call it a statement game. Call it a signature victory. Or just call it a nice way to end a tough, oft-interrupted road trip.
By BOB DUTTON
The Kansas City Star
Alex Gordon’s grand slam capped a five-run 10th inning Thursday afternoon that carried the Royals to an 8-3 victory over the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park.
Gordon’s blast — and it was that — came after James Shields matched Tigers ace Justin Verlander in exactly the sort of performance the Royals envisioned when they acquired him in the offseason trade from Tampa Bay.
“It’s amazing what Shields does,” Gordon said. “You know what? They always talk about Big Game James Shields, but we didn’t realize what that was until we got him over here with us.”
Shields got a no-decision, but his outing enabled the Royals to stare down a long-time nemesis in Verlander.
“He matched him pitch-for-pitch,” first baseman Eric Hosmer said. “It doesn’t matter if he gives up a couple of runs early, he’s still going to get deep into games. That’s exactly what we needed.”
Lorenzo Cain started the winning rally by ripping a one-out double to center against Phil Coke, who then walked Mike Moustakas. A first-pitch wild pitch to Jeff Francoeur moved the runners to second and third.
That led to an intentional walk to Francoeur, which set up a force at every base, and shifted the spotlight to George Kottaras, who entered the game an inning earlier after Salvy Perez exited for a pinch-runner.
“He is going to give you a professional, no-panic at-bat in those situations,” manager Ned Yost said. “I turned to Gordie and said, ‘They’re going to have to throw this kid three strikes or they’re going to end up walking him.’”
That’s exactly what happened, and the Royals led 4-3.
The Tigers brought in Darin Downs, who induced a grounder from Chris Getz that resulted in a force at the plate before Gordon rocked a 2-0 pitch for his first career grand slam.
The ball sailed through the rain into Miguel Cabreraland — the hedges beyond the center-field wall.
“He’s the only one I’ve seen go out there until Gordo did it,” Hosmer said. “Initially, off the bat, everyone was just hoping it would get over (Austin Jackson’s) head.
“Then the ball kept going and we just went, ‘Wow!’ He crushed that ball.”
Gordon, too, didn’t think “homer” as the ball left his bat.
“In Detroit?” he asked. “No. Never. That’s a big outfield. I think there was a storm coming in that kind of blew it out a little bit. I had three punchouts on the day, and I was just trying to make contact.”
Tim Collins, 1-0, got the victory when Greg Holland closed out the game in a non-save situation. Coke, 0-3, was the loser.
The victory enabled the Royals, 11-8, to gain a split of the rain-shortened, two-game series against the Tigers and complete a 4-3 trek that previously included stops in Atlanta (1-1) and Boston (2-1).
The 11-day trip included two open dates, a postponement in Boston because of last Friday’s manhunt for the Marathon bomber, and a rainout in Tuesday’s opener against the Tigers.
It ended with the Royals still atop the American League Central as they headed home to begin a 10-game stay at Kauffman Stadium.
“This is a phenomenal road trip for us,” Shields said. “I think in about August, we’re going to look back at this road trip, and it’s going to be a pretty crucial road trip.
“We did a great job of coming back in some games. We did a great job of grinding out some wins.”
Shields allowed just five hits, but he also threw three costly wild pitches while surrendering three runs in his eight innings.
Detroit scored a run in the first inning on Cabrera’s one-out RBI single, but the Royals scored single runs in the third on Billy Butler’s two-out RBI single and the fourth on Perez’s sacrifice fly.
Two wild pitches by Shields led to the tying run after a leadoff walk in the fourth. Another wild pitch preceded Torii Hunter’s tie-breaking RBI single in the fifth.
“I just overthrew them and cut them a little bit,” Shields said. “We were set up down and away for two-seamers, and I just overthrew them a little bit.”
Verlander exited after seven innings because of what the Tigers described as cracked skin on his right thumb. He gave up two runs, one earned, and eight hits while striking out four and walking one.
“We had a chance to get to Verlander early,” Yost said. “And you’re thinking if you don’t get to him early, the later it gets, the tougher it is going to be.
“Shields did a great job of keeping us right there and giving us an opportunity.”
Tigers rookie Bruce Rondon, in his big-league debut, inherited a 3-2 lead to start the eighth inning and surrendered a leadoff single to Butler. That brought Jarrod Dyson into the game as a pinch-runner.
Dyson stole second and moved to third on Hosmer’s ground out. Cain’s soft fly to short center was sufficient to score the tying run, which stuck Verlander, 15-2 in his career against the Royals, with a no-decision.
Rondon came back for the ninth but, again, yielded a leadoff single — this one to Perez. That prompted a switch to Coke for a left-on-left matchup against Getz.
The Royals replaced Perez with Elliot Johnson, who moved to second on Getz’s sacrifice. But Coke struck out Gordon on three pitches before issuing an intentional walk to Alcides Escobar.
That brought up Dyson, who was now in Butler’s spot — and he flied to left. It only delayed the drama until the 10th inning, when Gordon more than atoned for striking out in the ninth.
“I think what was big on this road trip,” he said, “is we lost the first game of every series and bounced back. We responded. We didn’t let the first loss get in the way.
“Maybe that’s what happened in previous years. We kind of let things linger. This year, we just forget about it.”
To reach Bob Dutton, send email to email@example.com. Follow his updates at twitter.com/Royals_Report.