DETROIT | For the first time in 42 days -- go ahead, count them up -- the Royals can wake up this morning, grab the paper, look at the standings and see proof that, yes, they no longer occupy last place in the American League Central Division.
How long this lasts is yet to be determined, but the Royals vacated the basement Tuesday night with a 5-0 victory over the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park.
Made it look easy, too.
Zack Greinke pitched seven sparkling innings and never threw a pitch without the lead. The Royals hit three homers in an 11-hit attack: Mike Aviles in the first inning; Ryan Shealy and Alex Gordon in a three-run fourth.
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“You know any time that Zack is on the mound,” Shealy said, “he’s going to keep the score tight. When we got up five, I was pretty confident we were going to pull through.”
In doing so, they leapt past fast-fading Detroit. Sure, the margin is razor-thin: a .4557 winning percentage for the Royals; a .4551 winning percentage for the Tigers.
Still, check the standings. Greinke, 13-10, allowed just four hits in lowering his ERA to 3.47. He struck out four and walked two before handing the five-run lead to the bullpen -- all on a night when he said he struggled with just about everything.
“Zack was going through the lineup up and down,” Gordon said. “Just cruising. I said, `You look good.’ He said: ‘I feel like crap, though. I don’t have any pitches tonight.’
“When he came out of the game, I told him, `You should be like that every night.’ ”
Leo Nuñez retired the final six hitters in order. That makes 18 straight hitters set down by the bullpen over the last three games.
Veteran Freddy Garcia, 1-1, made his second start since joining the Tigers -- yep, he’s here now in looking to re-ignite his career after labrum and rotator-cuff surgery.
Garcia had the Tigers’ only victory since Sept. 7 when he went five scoreless innings last Wednesday at Texas. He showed flashes of his old form by striking out six in his five innings but allowed those three homers.
“Freddy looked really good in spots,” manager Trey Hillman said, “especially when as bad as we were missing on some of those strikeouts. He had a good split-finger today and was mixing in a breaking ball.
“Thankfully, he left a few pitches out over the plate, and we took advantage of it.”
David DeJesus extended his hitting streak to 14 games with a single in the seventh innings. Aviles, Shealy, Gordon and Billy Butler each had two hits. It hardly mattered that the Royals grounded into four double plays.
Aviles’ ninth homer, a one-out drive in the first, staked Greinke to a 1-0 lead.
Greinke escaped a two-hit jam in the second inning when left fielder Mark Teahen nailed Jeff Larish at the plate for the final out. Larish roped a one-out double to center and tried to score on Marcus Thames’ two-out single.
Teahen’s assist was his sixth of the season from the outfield.
Shealy opened the fourth inning with his seventh homer in 58 at-bats since his Sept. 2 recall from Class AAA Omaha.
Butler then drew a one-out walk, and Gordon followed by tomahawking a 372-foot drive over the right-field wall. Gordon’s homer was his 16th, one more than he hit last season as a rookie.
The Tigers mounted their biggest threat in the fourth when Edgar Renteria’s two-out double put runners at second and third. Thames sent DeJesus to the warning track in center for the final out.
“When Thames hit it,” Greinke said, “it should have been a home run, but the wind and that part of the park kept it in. And Dave made a nice play.”
Detroit didn’t get another hit over the final five innings.
The Royals, 72-86, won for the 10th time in their last 12 games and improved to 15-7 in September. The Tigers, 71-85, lost for the 11th time in their last 12 games. The three-game series concludes tonight when Brian Bannister, 8-16, faces Detroit lefty Nate Robertson, 7-10.
“We’ll take any advancement we can get at this point,” Hillman said. “Hopefully, we can continue to play well. We’ve got at least four more games. They’ve got at least five and maybe six.”
The Royals have an open date Thursday before closing the season with three games at Minnesota. The Tigers begin a four-game home series Thursday against Tampa Bay. They will play a makeup game Monday at Chicago only if it impacts the divisional race.
The goal for the Royals is simple: Avoid a fifth straight last-place finish.
“You definitely have to start somewhere,” Shealy said. “Unfortunately, that’s all we have to play for right now. But it’s a step in the right direction.”
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