KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Anyone who tracked the Royals in recent years knows how they once just rolled over when facing Detroit’s Justin Verlander. Well, take a look at what’s happened this season.
Salvy Perez’s two-run homer Saturday night lifted the Royals to 4-3 victory over Verlander and the Tigers at Kauffman Stadium. It also rewarded Wade Davis with a victory on his 28th birthday for some solid relief work.
And, yes, it kept the candle burning for another day on the Royals‘ bid to reach postseason for the first time since the year Davis was born.
At 74-68, they closed, temporarily, to within four games of Tampa Bay in the chase for the American League’s final wild-card berth. The Rays played late Saturday in Seattle.
But it also marked the Royals’ third straight victory over Verlander, their one-time ultimate nemesis. And it marked the fifth time this season, in five games, that they beat the Tigers in a game started by Verlander.
This guy, remember, was 15-2 in 23 career starts against the Royals prior to this season. Former Royals first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz once said the only way to hit Verlander was to employ Jedi mind tricks.
So things have changed.
It was 2-2 when Eric Hosmer opened the sixth inning with a double to right-center field. Verlander (12-11) struck out Billy Butler before Hosmer went to third on Mike Moustakas’ fly to deep left.
Perez then jumped a 98-mph fastball from Verlander and sent it 407 feet to left for his 11th homer of the season. The Royals led 4-2.
It marked Verlander’s third straight start against the Royals in which he yielded a go-ahead homer to a player who had never previously homered against him.
The others were Moustakas on July 20 here at the K, and Hosmer on Aug. 16 in Detroit. The Royals never surrendered the lead in those games, either.
Will Smith replaced Davis, 7-10, to start the seventh but exited after the Tigers put runners at first and second with one out on two singles.
In came Luke Hochevar, who struck out Torii Hunter but yielded an RBI single to Miguel Cabrera. Hochevar held the lead by retiring Prince Fielder on a fly to right.
Hochevar then worked a one-two-three eight inning before Greg Holland closed out the victory for his 39th save.
Royals lefty Danny Duffy produced another mix of tough-to-hit, tough-to-control stuff while throwing 87 pitches in 4⅔ innings. He yielded just two hits but walked five. The result was two runs.
Duffy started the game by throwing six balls before getting a called strike on Hunter. The next offering was a change-up that went to the back wall for a wild pitch that moved Austin Jackson to second.
Hunter struck out, but Duffy walked Cabrera before Fielder looped an RBI single into right field for a 1-0 1ead. Duffy retired the next two hitters on fly balls to left — but he threw 31 pitches in the inning.
The Royals got a one-out single in their first by Emilio Bonifacio on a hopper that caromed off Verlander’s glove, but ex-Royals catcher Brayan Pena threw out Bonifacio on an attempted steal.
That broke two notable streaks.
It was Bonifacio’s first caught stealing in 14 attempts since joining the Royals in an Aug. 14 trade with Toronto. And it ended a streak of 24 straight successful steals by Detroit opponents.
Duffy steadied over the next few innings, which provided the Royals with a chance to pull even after David Lough opened the third with a double to left center.
Lough took third on Jarrod Dyson’s sacrifice — and it took a nice throw by Verlander to get Dyson at first.
The Tigers then shortened their infield and got a grounder to first by Alcides Escobar; Fielder threw to the plate, which Pena blocked for the out. Lough came up hobbling.
And, still, the Royals pulled even. Alex Gordon served a single into the right that moved Escobar to third, and Bonifacio followed with bunt for an RBI single that made it 1-1.
Duffy failed to survive the fifth after Nick Castellanos led off with an infield single to second. Bonifacio made a nice snap throw to first, but Hosmer couldn’t hold it.
Successive four-pitch walks to Ramon Santiago and Jackson loaded the bases with one out — and finished Duffy. The Royals summoned Davis to face Hunter.
Davis struck out Hunter and jumped ahead 0-2 on Cabrera before missing on four straight pitches for a run-scoring walk. Davis limited the damage to one run by retiring Fielder on a pop to third.
The Royals pulled even later in the inning after Dyson walked with one out and stole second — his 30th steal of the season. Escobar followed with an RBI single to left.
Escobar took second on the throw home and went to third on Gordon’s grounder to second. Verlander kept the score 2-2 by retiring Bonifacio on a grounder to first.