KANSAS CITY, Mo. — So, um, how far are the Royals out of first place? Sadly, too far at this point.
It makes you wonder, though, doesn’t it?
A pulsating 2-1 victory on Thursday completed a three-game sweep of second-place Detroit and followed a three-game sweep over first-place Chicago when the Royals were last here at Kauffman Stadium.
Jeremy Guthrie (3-3) turned in another marvelous effort in carrying a 2-0 lead into the eighth inning – and then things got interesting.
First, the Tigers scored once in the eighth before Aaron Crow stranded the tying and go-ahead runs.
The Royals then turned to Kelvin Herrera to protect a one-run lead in the ninth after closer Greg Holland labored through high-leverage saves in the series’ two previous games.
And Herrera started the inning with a four-pitch walk to pinch-hitter Alex Avila before Lorenzo Cain made a diving catch on Austin Jackson’s sinking liner to center field. The Royals got a similar web gem Wednesday in the ninth inning from Jarrod Dyson.
The speedy Jackson might have circled the bases if the ball gets past Cain.
We’re not done.
Right fielder Jeff Francoeur then tried for a diving catch on Andy Dirks’ sinking liner but short-hopped the ball. The result was a single that moved Avila to second.
That got the game to Miguel Cabrera, a perennial MVP candidate who is a long-time Royals’ killer. But Herrera got Cabrera to hit a medium grounder to second that turned into a game-ending double play — an amazing double play.
Shortstop Alcides Escobar, after taking the throw from Johnny Giavotella, had to leap a sliding Dirks before throwing to first.
The throw just beat Cabrera, and the game was over.
Guthrie had the victory. Herrera had his first major-league save.
And the Royals had a sweep.
Guthrie scattered eight hits through the first seven innings, but the Tigers put the tying run on base in the eighth with one-out singles by Prince Fielder and Delmon Young.
That prompted changes.
The Royals went to the bullpen for Tim Collins, while Quintin Berry replaced Young as a pinch runner. The Tigers also sent up Jeff Baker to bat for Brennan Boesch to avoid a left-on-left matchup against Collins.
Baker struck out on three pitches, but Jhonny Peralta grounded an RBI single up the middle on a full count. That broke an 18-inning scoreless streak for the Tigers — but Berry had failed to break with the pitch and only reached second base.
Crow replaced Collins, and Crow stranded two runners by retiring Omar Infante on a fly to center. The run in the inning was charged to Guthrie, who allowed one run and 10 hits in 7 1/3 innings.
That was mere prelude to the ninth.
Detroit starter Rick Porcello, 9-10, allowed two runs and eight hits in five-plus innings.
The game was scoreless into the Royals’ fifth, which Mike Moustakas started with a double into the right-center gap. Francoeur followed by snapping a zero-for-19 skid with a line single to center.
Third-base coach Eddie Rodriguez chose to stop Moustakas at third with no outs. A wild pitch by Porcello moved Francoeur to second, but Moustakas chose to stay at third. The cautionary approach was probably right on both occasions.
A walk to Eric Hosmer, after Porcello was ahead 1-2 in the count, loaded the bases for Giavotella, who produced a run on a fielder’s-choice grounder to short. The Tigers settled for an out at second.
Porcello limited the damage to that one run by striking out Cain and retiring Escobar on a sharp grounder back to the mound.
The Tigers had a chance to answer in the sixth after catching a break when Francoeur took a poor route to Fielder’s leadoff liner. The result was a double, but Guthrie pitched around the threat.
Young grounded out to third. Boesch flied out to medium center. And Peralta grounded out to second.
All in a span of four pitches.
The Royals then knocked out Porcello in their sixth.
Alex Gordon led off with a homer — a 391-foot drive to right that just cleared the wall above a leaping Boesch. Billy Butler followed with a double to right and went to third on Salvy Perez’s line single into center.
That finished Porcello.
Darin Downs threw a wild pitch on a 1-2 offering to Moustakas, but catcher Gerald Laird recovered in time to get the ball to Downs to tag Butler at the plate. Perez took second. After Moustakas flied to right, the Downs intentionally walked Francoeur.
Downs kept the deficit at 2-0 by retiring Hosmer on a pop to second.
Infante started the Detroit seventh with a single to left. Laird popped to short, but Infante took second when Perez threw wildly to first on a pick-off attempt. Again, Guthrie pitched out of it — retiring Jackson and Dirks on routine fly balls.