It took 33 2/3 innings and nearly 12 hours of baseball for the Royals to take a lead during a four-game series with the Tigers.
It was worth the wait Sunday as the Royals rallied behind a five-run seventh inning and hit the All-Star break by hanging a 5-2 loss around Justin Verlander’s neck.
“Being able to pull this out at the end, after being down 2-0 and especially after the first three (games) didn’t go our way, it’s a huge boost going into the break,” said Raul Ibañez, who snapped a zero-for-25 slump with a seventh-inning single.
The Royals, 48-46, had returned home Thursday with designs on putting a dent in the Tigers’ 4 1/2-game lead in the AL Central.
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Instead, the Tigers, 53-38, grabbed a three-run lead before the Royals batted in the series opener, then dominated manager Ned Yost’s run-starved club until the seventh inning of the series finale.
“It does (change the mood) a little bit, even though it’s one win,” Yost said. “You feel like you could have taken three of four with a couple of well-placed hits, but we’re eight games better than we were at this time last year.”
The win also kept the Royals above .500 heading into the four-day All-Star respite and within 61/2 games of first place in the division.
The Royals resuscitated a scuffling offense, which produced only one run in losses Friday and Saturday, long enough Sunday to avoid a demoralizing sweep.
It wasn’t a crushing display, but the Royals greeted Verlander with four consecutive singles to start the decisive seventh inning.
“Guys started putting together good at-bats,” said All-Star closer Greg Holland, who headed for Minneapolis after recording his 25th save. “Verlander was pretty sharp all day, but the guys kept working and kept working. We got our opportunity and made the most of it. That’s pretty rewarding.”
Through six innings, Verlander handcuffed the Royals, who trailed 2-0 and had mustered only two hits — Brett Hayes’ two-out double in the third and Jarrod Dyson’s two-out infield single in the fifth.
The tide turned when singles by Billy Butler, Mike Moustakas and Ibañez loaded the bases before Alcides Escobar’s 80-foot infield single past the mound broke up the shutout.
“Good things are contagious,” Ibañez said. “Sometimes the opposite is true, too, but we got some good swings that inning and we caught a couple of breaks.”
Dyson’s RBI ground-out tied the game and chased Verlander, who allowed four runs and six hits in 61/3 innings, and the Tigers’ bullpen couldn’t stop the bleeding.
Two batters after Salvador Perez, who pinch hit for Hayes, was intentionally walked to load the bases again, Omar Infante slashed a two-run single against Al Albuquerque — the third of four Tigers pitchers in the inning.
“I got lucky he threw me a slow pitch,” Infante said of the game-winning hit. “I was waiting for a slider and waiting for that pitch. I made good contact.”
Eric Hosmer, who extended his hitting streak to a career-best 13 games, pushed the lead to 5-2 with a ground-rule double to center that kept the crowd of 23,424 rocking.
That was more than enough cushion for Wade Davis and Holland, who both threw perfect innings to polish off the victory.
Starting in place of Jason Vargas, who underwent an emergency appendectomy Wednesday in Tampa, Fla., veteran left-hander Bruce Chen turned in a sterling spot start. He allowed only two runs and eight hits with two strikeouts and no walks in 51/3 innings.
“I was throwing all of my pitches for strikes, but I have to give credit to Brett,” Chen said. “He called a really great game, and we were in sync.”
Both of Detroit’s runs came in the third inning on Miguel Cabrera’s sacrifice fly and J.D. Martinez’s RBI single, a pop-up to shallow left that Escobar lost in the sun.
Making his first career relief appearance, Yordano Ventura, 7-7, picked up the win after backing Chen with 1 2/3 scoreless innings.
“It stopped the bleeding and we can go into the All-Star break with a better mood,” Chen said. “… We get four days off and, hopefully, we’ll come back ready to win again.”