DETROIT — So far, the Royals aren’t providing the same late-season torment to the Detroit Tigers that they inflicted on the Chicago White Sox.
Detroit made it three in a row Wednesday night by rallying for a 5-4 victory at Comerica Park with winning run scoring because of a takeout slide by Andy Dirks on second baseman Irving Falu in the eighth inning. The victory, couple with the Indians’ win over the White Sox, put Detroit alone in first place in the AL Central.
On this, the Royals were unanimous: Dirks, a former Wichita State standout, made a terrific, game-winning play.
“You’ve got to credit Dirks for busting his tail to get down there and break that thing up,” manager Ned Yost said. “Absolutely the right play (to try for a double play). It was hit hard enough, but Dirks made the play. He made it happen.
“He got a great jump on the ball, went in aggressively and went in cleanly.”
The Tigers had runners at first and third with one out against Kelvin Herrera when Jhonny Peralta pulled a grounder to third. Mike Moustakas opted for the double play – and, remember, Moose leads all third basemen with 41 double plays.
“That’s a double-play ball,” Moustakas insisted. “It’s a ground ball, and Peralta got out of the box pretty slow. But Dirks did a heck of a job at getting on top of Irv. That’s just kind of how the game goes.”
A strong throw by Moustakas recorded one out, but Dirks’ hard, clean slide prevented Falu from even attempting a throw to first.
Dirks said, “That’s just the way you play baseball.”
And the Tigers had a one-run lead.
“I tried to make the double play,” a disconsolate Falu said, “but he got me. If I make that throw, I’d probably make a bad throw … but maybe that’s my fault.”
Moustakas squelched that thought.
“I’ve played with Irv,” he said, “and he’s unbelievable with his glove at second. If he can’t make that play, then it’s a tough play to make. That’s that. The guy can play second base.”
When José Valverde closed out the victory with a scoreless ninth, Detroit was guaranteed to hold at least a share of first place in the American League Central Division with seven games remaining. Chicago started the day in a tie but played later Wednesday.
Joaquin Benoit (4-3) got the victory after pitching a scoreless eighth. Herrera (4-3) was the loser. The Royals and Tigers conclude their four-game series this afternoon.
“We’re putting up a fight,” Yost said, “but we’ve played three games, and we’re 0-3.”
The two teams break for the weekend – the Royals go to Cleveland – but meet again next week in a season-ending, three-game series at Kauffman Stadium. The Royals went 12-6 this season against the White Sox but are just 4-10 so far against the Tigers.
This was a nice comeback by the Tigers, who had lost their previous 11 one-run games. The Royals staked Jeremy Guthrie to a 4-1 lead by scoring three times in the third before getting a homer from Jeff Francoeur in the fourth.
Guthrie couldn’t hold it.
He served up homers on changeups to Alex Avila and Austin Jackson in a three-run fourth that pulled Detroit even. Guthrie allowed nothing further before exiting with a no-decision after seven innings.
“The home runs were big swings for them,” he said. “When I let (those pitches) out of my hand, I didn’t expect them to go as they did. Both hitters did a good job of putting the good part of the bat on it and driving it really hard.”
Herrera started the eighth by retiring Prince Fielder on a drive to center, but Delmon Young reached on an infield single that, initially, first baseman Eric Hosmer deflected. Falu pounced on the carom and made a quick throw, but Herrera couldn’t hold it.
It proved costly.
Don Kelly replaced Young as a pinch-runner and stole second. Falu positioned himself behind the base, instead of straddling it, when allowed the throw by catcher Salvy Perez to sail a bit high and result in a late tag.
“If (Falu) is straddling the bag or up on the bag a little bit more,” Yost admitted, “I think he would have been out.”
Falu still believed he made the tag in time.
“I think he was out,” he said. “It was close, but I think he was out.”
Replays suggested umpire Bill Welke got the call right.
Kelly went to third on Dirks’ ground single through the left side. Peralta followed with his grounder to third and … well, we already went through that.
The Tigers gave starter Rick Porcello a quick hook after four innings and 61 pitches – right after they pulled even.
Luis Marte replaced Porcello to start the fifth but departed with two outs and runner on second – Alex Gordon’s 51st double, with a one out – when the Tigers called on Al Albuquerque to face Perez, who struck out.
It was Perez’s third strikeout of the game – a career first.
Miguel Cabrera opened the Detroit fifth with a high drive to deep left – so high that Gordon had time to retreat to the wall – 6.7 seconds, officially – wait and calmly reach over the wall for a homer-robbing catch.
“I play him almost by the wall anyway with his power,” Gordon said. “I saw it up in the air, and I had plenty of time to judge it. I found the fence and just stood there. It’s just that he’s going for the Triple Crown and everybody is excited.”
After Fielder ripped a single into center, shortstop Alcides Escobar produced a no-argument web gem with a running over-the-shoulder catch on a Young’s looper into short center.
“Gordy played it perfectly,” Yost said. “He found the wall, and it was perfect. It was right there for him to catch. It was a routine catch. Escobar’s (catch) was far from routine. Escobar’s (catch) was a phenomenal play.”
Dirks’ slide turned it into a footnote.
“That’s probably one of the biggest slides of the year right there,” Porcello said. “That won us the game.”