KANSAS CITY, Mo. — I’ll take things I never thought I’d see for $1,000, Alex.
The Royals played whack-a-mole Tuesday night with Justin Verlander. (No, we’re not framing it as a question.) That’s right, Justin Verlander. The Detroit ace, long-time nemesis and the winner last year of the Cy Young and Most Valuable Player awards.
That Justin Verlander.
Eight runs and 12 hits over 5 2/3 innings. (It was like the Royals were wearing National League uniforms and All-Star Game never ended.) The Royals never registered more than five runs or eight hits against Verlander in 21 previous career encounters.
All of that still wasn’t enough…
The Royals needed a two-out RBI double by Mike Moustakas against Tigers lefty Phil Coke in the eighth inning to pull out a 9-8 victory.
Even then, it came down to a fair-or-foul call on Delmon Young’s two-out drive in the ninth inning against Royals closer Greg Holland with two runners on base. The call required a lengthy review before the umpires confirmed the original call of a foul ball.
“I was going to do a George Brett and come charging in if they called that fair,” said right fielder Jeff Francoeur, who had an up-close view. “I would have heard it if it hit the pole. It didn’t. But it missed by this much.”
Francoeur held his thumb and forefinger an inch apart.
Young hit Holland’s next pitch for a routine fly to left for the final out.
Billy Butler started the winning rally with a one-out single against Bryan Villarreal. Pinch-runner Lorenzo Cain stole second before Villarreal, 3-4, retired Salvy Perez on a foul pop to first.
Detroit summoned Coke for a left-on-left matchup with Moustakas, but he yanked an 0-1 breaking ball past first base for his third hit of the game after starting the night mired in a one-for-24 slump.
“I missed a (similar) opportunity earlier in the game,” Moustakas said, “but I wasn’t going to let it happen again. I got a good slider to hit, stayed on it and was able to hook it down the line.”
Who knew the game was far from over?
Holland worked a Broxtonesque ninth for his eighth save. He started the inning by walking Austin Jackson, who went to second on Andy Dirks’ grounder to second. A wild pitch moved Jackson to third and prompted the Royals to shorten their infield.
Holland struck out Miguel Cabrera, which returned the infield to normal depth, before the Royals played the percentages by issuing an intentional walk to Prince Fielder.
“I wasn’t going to let Prince tie that game right there,” said manager Ned Yost, who had Fielder for several years in Milwaukee. “I’ve been with him too long…I was just going to take my chances with Young.
“I no more got in the dugout and turned to Dave (pitching coach Dave Eiland) and said, `I hope this works, and then boom.”
Young sent Holland’s first offering soaring to deep right. The initial ruling by first-base umpire Ted Barrett, the crew chief, was a foul ball. The Tigers asked for an appeal, and the umpires reviewed the tape.
“I ran in and watched it the replay and could see definitely it was foul,” Yost said. “But their dugout was screaming it was fair. So I’m like, `Wait a minute. I think I know what I saw.’ I’m fixing to get myself thrown out if they say it’s a home run.”
It was an extended review, but the call stood.
Young flied out on the next pitch.
Aaron Crow, 3-1, got the victory after blowing a save in the eighth by serving up Jhonny Peralta’s one-out homer That homer took Verlander off the hook for what would have been just his third loss in 17 career decisions against the Royals.
“I’ll be the first one to tell you we had some seeing-eye singles,” said Billy Butler, who had three of the Royals’ 15 hits. “When he’s on top of his game, he’s the best. We found holes today, and we battled him.
“It doesn’t matter how many times you see Verlander, he’s Verlander.”
It was a wild ride.
Detroit staked Verlander to a 3-0 lead before the Royals countered with three runs in their first and four more in the second. The Tigers closed to 7-6 with a three-run third – those first six Detroit runs came against Royals starter Luis Mendoza.
“That’s a good lineup,” Mendoza said, “and they hit everything I threw up there. My teammates won this game.”
The Royals scored once in the sixth while knocking out Verlander, but Kelvin Herrera gave up a run in the seventh before Peralta took Crow out of the yard. That also meant a no-decision for Mendoza.
Mendoza put the Royals in a quick three-run hole and nearly blew a four-run lead before handing a 7-6 lead to Herrera to start the sixth inning.
“Going into it,” Yost said, “my mindset was Mendy was going to match (Verlander) inning for inning. After we scored seven, I wanted to abandon that plan, but we really didn’t.”
Herrera made it through the sixth with no problem, and the Royals knocked out Verlander later in the inning on Perez’s two-out RBI double.
“We had a good approach against him tonight,” Yost said. “Justin is probably over there saying he isn’t real sharp, but you take advantage of him when you can. We put (eight) runs on the board, and that’s a great job against a pitcher of his caliber.”
The Tigers got that run back in a hurry.
Jackson opened the seventh with his third hit, a single, and stole second when Perez dropped the pitch. A wild pitch by Herrera moved Jackson to third before Cabrera drove a two-out RBI single to right on a 3-1 fastball.
Tim Collins replaced Herrera for a left-on-left matchup against Fielder, who walked. That meant another change – to Crow to go right-on-right against Young.
Crow struck out Young but couldn’t hold the lead through the eighth.
Young’s two-run homer capped a three-run Detroit first, but the Royals answered with three runs in their first. Moustakas delivered a two-out, two-run single.
It marked only that second in 142 career innings against the Royals that Verlander allowed more than two runs in an inning. He yielded three in the second inning on July 7, 2009 at Detroit – and still got the victory when the Tigers on 8-5.
The Royals then scored four runs in the second inning, which Alex Gordon keyed with a two-run bloop double.
Of course, the Tigers weren’t done.
Fielder’s two-run double highlighted a three-run third that cut the lead to 7-6.