There’s a first time for everything and Wednesday night, for the first time, the Royals figured out how to beat Detroit right-hander Justin Verlander in a 2-0 victory at Kauffman Stadium.
It merits an asterisk, perhaps, that this Verlander bears little resemblance to the guy who spent the last two years dominating opponents — all opponents, not just the Royals.
Even so, the Royals were 0-6 against Verlander in nine previous encounters. Plus, it’s not like this was easy. The Royals scraped together two runs in the second inning and that was it.
Rookie right-hander Luke Hochevar and another dominant performance from the bullpen made it stand up. Hochevar, 3-2, worked six scoreless innings, but it required some scrambling.
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The Tigers put runners on base from the second through the sixth, including two in the third and sixth. Hochevar particularly benefited from two borderline strike-three calls in the sixth against Magglio Ordonez and Marcus Thames.
Even so, Hochevar limited the Tigers to four hits, all singles, while striking out five and walking three.
Lefty reliever Ron Mahay worked a one-two-three seventh before exiting after Placido Polanco’s leadoff single in the eighth. Leo Nuñez then yielded a first-pitch single to Carlos Guillen.
Ordonez grounded into a double play that included a nice turn by second baseman Mark Grudzielanek with Guillen bearing down. Nuñez ended the inning by retiring Miguel Cabrera on a grounder to short.
Joakim Soria pitched the ninth for his 10th save. He struck out the first two hitters before retiring Edgar Renteria on a grounder to mound. That extended Soria’s season-long scoreless streak to 16 1/3 innings over 17 games.
The Royals, 18-21, will look to complete a three-game sweep in this afternoon’s series finale. They began the season with a three-game sweep in Detroit, when they knocked out, but didn’t beat, Verlander in the opener.
Verlander, 1-7, has been one of the season’s biggest puzzlements — or disappointments. Take your pick. He entered the game with a 6.43 ERA after going 18-6 and 3.66 in 2007.
Verlander did get just his second quality start in nine outings, and lowered his ERA to 6.05, but little else. He departed down 2-0 after Tony Peña’s leadoff double in the seventh inning.
Peña moved to third on Joey Gathright’s sacrifice bunt against reliever Clay Rapada, but the Royals still couldn’t score the run. David DeJesus popped to short before Rapada put Mark Grudzielanek received an intentional walk.
Alex Gordon loaded the bases with an unintentional walk, which prompted Detroit manager Jim Leyland to call on Freddy Dolsi to face José Guillen.
Guillen grounded to third for the final out.
Turned out it didn’t matter.
The Royals got the game’s only runs after opening the second inning with successive singles by Billy Butler and Mark Teahen, which put runners at first and third with no outs. Verlander caught a break when Butler broke for home on John Buck’s hopper to third.
The result was an easy out at the plate.
But Verlander loaded the bases by walking Peña — on four pitches — before Gathright sliced a soft two-run single to left.
The Royals missed their chance for a bigger inning when Peña was thrown out at third on the front end of a double steal before David DeJesus flied to left.
Again, it didn’t matter. Two runs were enough.