There was a time, not too long ago, when the Royals pretty much rolled over whenever Detroit ace Justin Verlander took the mound.
The Royals nursed a one-run lead through the closing innings Saturday night, after a Mike Moustakas homer in the fifth, for a 6-5 victory over Verlander and the Tigers at Kauffman Stadium.
That was just their third victory against Verlander in 18 career decisions, but it marked the fifth time in his last six starts that they won the game. That includes three victories this season.
Not that it was easy.
“That’s Justin Verlander out there,” Moustakas said. “When that guy is on, he’s tough to hit. He tried to run a sinker down and away, and I was able to elevate it a little bit. It ended up getting out of the yard for us.
“Apparently, it was a huge run.”
All-Star closer Greg Holland closed out a victory for Jeremy Guthrie, 9-7, by pitching around Victor Martinez’s one-out double in the ninth. Off the bat, it appeared ticketed for a game-tying homer to right.
Martinez stood a moment to admire it before starting to run, which led Holland to believe it must be out.
“When you see a guy standing there in the box … obviously, I thought it was out,” Holland said. “He stood there so long.
“I was kind of hoping it would get a favorable kick off the wall so we could throw him out at second. That would have been awesome.”
It turned out fine. Holland retired the next two hitters for his 17th straight successful save conversion and 24th overall in 26 chances.
Guthrie got the victory despite allowing five runs and 10 hits in six innings because a bullpen relay of Tim Collins, Luke Hochevar, Aaron Crow and Holland combined for three scoreless innings.
The numbers on Guthrie were deceptive. He deserved better from a defense he has often praised in the past.
A play not made in the first inning by right fielder David Lough led to two runs, and some infield follies produced a two-run fifth.
“He started out real rocky,” manager Ned Yost said, “and then he really got it together in the third inning. The two runs (in the fifth), none of that was his fault. He should have been out of that inning with no runs.”
Moustakas broke a 5-5 tie with a two-out homer in the fifth inning on a 92-mph fastball from Verlander, who dropped to 10-7 after yielding six runs in his 52/3 innings.
“I just wasn’t in sync,” he said. “Today wasn’t where I needed to be. So, hopefully, that time off (for the All-Star break) just threw me out of sync.”
The Tigers had chances to take him off the hook, particularly in the eighth when they put runners at second and third with one out before Crow retired Torii Hunter and Miguel Cabrera on grounders to third.
Crow later deadpanned: “I just didn’t want Holland to have to face Miggy in the ninth.”
Problems started in the fifth when second baseman Chris Getz suffered a knee injury on Prince Fielder’s one-out grounder. Getz was playing deep, and his leg gave out when he tried to reverse course on the outfield grass.
The injury was later diagnosed as a sprained medial ligament in his left knee. It is not believed to be serious, but he will be evaluated further on Sunday.
The Royals then turned sloppy after Martinez reached on a fielder’s-choice grounder to short and Jhonny Peralta lofted a single to left.
Andy Dirks’ grounder to first should have ended the inning, but Eric Hosmer hesitated before making a dive for the bag when Guthrie pulled up short of the base. It was scored a single, and the bases were loaded.
“I thought he was close enough that he was going to take it,” Guthrie said. “I figured if he’s a step and a half away, he would probably take it. He had to stay back on it because it had a lot of spin.
“I thought the scorekeeper saw it right, initially (in scoring it as an error). Then he changed it. I thought he saw it right the first time.”
Avila followed with a grounder to second that should have ended the inning, but Elliot Johnson, who replaced Getz, appeared to get his feet tangled, and the ball skipped off his glove.
The result was a two-run single when Peralta scored from second.
Ramon Santiago’s grounder to Hosmer finally ended the inning when Guthrie got to first in time, took the throw — and then skied the ball into the crowd with an underhand toss as he ran to the dugout.
“It should have been zero,” he said. “If you have to get six outs in an inning, you’re going to give up some runs, typically. I got bit by six outs. I couldn’t get six without a run.”
It didn’t start well, either.
Guthrie opened the game by walking Austin Jackson and walked Cabrera with one out. Fielder followed by sending a drive to right that, probably, should have been caught by Lough. Instead, it fell for an RBI single.
Martinez pulled a clean single to right that scored Cabrera and moved Fielder to third. Guthrie avoided further damage when Peralta’s grounder to third resulted in an out at home.
The Royals answered with a run in the first on a sacrifice fly by Salvy Perez, but the Tigers came right back at Guthrie in the second.
Avila led off with a double and went to third on Santiago’s infield single. Guthrie struck out Jackson, but Hunter sent a sacrifice fly to left for a 3-1 lead.
The Royals pulled even with a two-out rally in the third.
Hosmer drove a single up the middle and went to second on a passed ball before Verlander walked Billy Butler. Both runners scored on Perez’s double into the right-field corner.
Lorenzo Cain and Moustakas opened the fourth with singles. When Lough followed with a single to right, Cain probably should have scored. Instead, he held up to ensure the ball dropped and only made it to third.
Alcides Escobar lined out to second, and Getz followed with a potential inning-ending, double-play grounder to second. But Getz beat the relay, which allowed Cain to score the tie-breaking run.
Getz stole second before the Royals reloaded the bases on a walk to Alex Gordon. Verlander jumped ahead 0-2 on Hosmer, who then worked back for an RBI walk and a 5-3 lead — a lead that slipped away in the fifth.
“You can’t say enough about the way the bullpen pitched tonight,” Guthrie said. “They won the game. And the offense won the game. In spite of me, essentially. They won the game despite me trying to give it away.”