Anyone who has tracked the Royals in recent years knows how they once just rolled over when facing Detroit’s Justin Verlander. Dead meat. Roadkill. Often, from all appearances, hopelessly overmatched.
Well, take a look now.
Salvy Perez’s two-run homer Saturday night lifted the Royals to 4-3 victory over Verlander and the Tigers at Kauffman Stadium. It also rewarded Wade Davis with a victory on his 28th birthday for some solid relief work.
And, yes, it kept the candle burning for another day on the Royals’ bid to reach postseason for the first time since the year Davis was born. After Tampa Bay lost to Seattle late Saturday night, the Royals closed to within 3 1/2 games of the Rays in the chase for the American League’s final wild-card berth.
It also marked the Royals’ third straight victory over Verlander, their erstwhile nemesis. And it marked the fifth time in five games this season that they beat the Tigers in a game started by Verlander.
“He hasn’t pitched poorly,” Royals designated hitter Billy Butler said. “It has to do with our pitching staff pitching better. In years past, they’d get out to a lead, it would be 4-0 or something, and with him on the mound, it was over.”
Remember, that Verlander was 15-2 in 23 career starts against the Royals before this season. Former Royals first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz once said the only way to hit him was to employ Jedi mind tricks.
“You can say what you want,” manager Ned Yost said, “but Verlander is (still) tough as nails. He’s as good as they come. We’ve done very well against him, but they’ve all been nip-and-tuck, tight one-run games.”
It was 2-2 when Eric Hosmer opened the sixth inning with a double to right-center field. Verlander, 12-11, struck out Butler before Hosmer went to third on Mike Moustakas’ fly to deep left.
Perez then jumped a 98-mph fastball on a 1-0 count and sent it 407 feet to left for his 11th homer of the season. The Royals led 4-2.
“He tried to go in, but he hung the (first) ball too much,” Perez said. “So I took that pitch. I just waited for the fastball, and he threw it to me. It came back to the middle a little bit. I hit it pretty good.
“As soon as I hit it, I knew it was gone.”
Verlander said he got beat on the pitch he wanted to throw.
“It was a fastball, down and in,” he said. “You’ve got to tip your cap, it was 98, and it was down and it was in. It was a good pitch, and he was able to get the barrel on it and elevate it. It got out of here.
“Obviously, I’m not happy about it, but he’s a good hitter and was able to do some damage with that. Looking back on it, I wouldn’t throw a different pitch. That’s the pitch I wanted.”
It marked Verlander’s third straight start against the Royals in which he yielded a go-ahead homer to a player who had never previously homered against him.
The others were to Moustakas on July 20 here at the K, and to Hosmer on Aug. 16 in Detroit. The Royals never surrendered the lead in those games, either.
After that, it was up to the Royals’ bullpen.
Will Smith replaced Davis, 7-10, to start the seventh but exited after the Tigers put runners at first and second with one out on two singles.
In came Luke Hochevar, who struck out Torii Hunter but yielded an RBI single to Miguel Cabrera. Hochevar held the lead by retiring Prince Fielder on a fly to right.
Hochevar then worked a one-two-three eight inning before Greg Holland closed out the victory for his 39th save.
Royals left-hander Danny Duffy produced another mix of tough-to-hit, tough-to-control stuff while throwing 87 pitches in 4 2/3 innings. He yielded just two hits but walked five. The result was two runs.
“I did not have my best command, obviously,” Duffy said. “Stuff was there. As long as we’re shaking hands at the mound after the game, that’s good with me.”
Duffy wobbled through a 31-pitch first inning that included two walks and an RBI single by Fielder. The Royals pulled even on Emilio Bonifacio’s two-out bunt single in the third with runners at first and third.
But Duffy failed to survive the fifth after Nick Castellanos led off with an infield single to second. Bonifacio made a nice snap throw to first, but Hosmer couldn’t hold it.
Successive four-pitch walks to Ramon Santiago and Austin Jackson loaded the bases with one out — and finished Duffy. The Royals summoned Davis to face Hunter.
“I’m comfortable (in those situations),” said Davis, who spent most of the season in the rotation. “Keeping a low heart rate in those situations, I’ve always been pretty good at that.”
Davis struck out Hunter and jumped ahead 0-2 on Miguel Cabrera before missing on four straight pitches for a run-scoring walk. Davis limited the damage to one run by retiring Fielder on a pop to third.
The Royals pulled even later in the inning after Jarrod Dyson walked with one out and stole second — his 30th steal of the season. Alcides Escobar followed with an RBI single to left.
It stayed 2-2 until Perez’s homer.
So here it is, something the Royals, and their fans, haven’t witnessed for a decade: A big-time victory in a meaningful September game against one of the game’s top pitchers.
“I’d be a liar if I said no,” Yost said. “Yes, very exhilarating. Every win means something. Every pitch means something Every game is really crucial.”