DETROIT | Last place again? Maybe not. Suddenly, the Royals are within one game of fourth-place Detroit after Monday’s 6-2 victory at Comerica Park.
Sure, it remains an uphill battle. And the odds grow really long if the Royals don’t also win the next two games. But, hey, it’s a chance.
“The plan is to finish up strong and have some good games,” shortstop Mike Aviles said. “If we catch them, we catch them. It would be nice. It would be a big step as far as the direction that we’re headed.”
This one was tougher than it needed to be. The Royals squandered repeated opportunities to produce big innings before pulling away late against the Tigers’ tattered bullpen.
“All game long,” center fielder David DeJesus agreed, “we had a lot of people on base. We didn’t score as many runs as we should have. But we were able to get enough to win the game.”
Plus, it’s not like the Royals, even in their September surge, can be picky about victories. Check the numbers, though: They are 14-7 this month after winning for the ninth time in 11 games.
As usual, a strong effort from the starting pitcher was the key.
Gil Meche produced the rotation’s eighth quality start in nine games when he held the Tigers to two runs in six innings. He also guaranteed himself of finishing with a winning record by improving to 13-11.
“The start I had (this year) put me in a bad bind to have a winning season,” said Meche, who entered May at 1-4. “Fortunately, I’ve just been able to pitch well in the second half. I got over the hump to where I can’t have a losing season. I was proud of that.”
Ramon Ramirez worked two scoreless innings before John Bale pitched the ninth in a non-save situation. The two combined to retired the last nine Tigers in order.
DeJesus paced an 11-hit attack and raised his average to .307 with the seventh four-hit game of his career. All seven have come on the road, including three here at Comerica.
The Royals also finally solved Tigers right-hander Zach Miner, who had beaten them this season in three previous starts while allowing just one run in 19 innings.
“Somehow, he’s shoved it up our butts all year long,” DeJesus said. “So it was good to get on him early. I think we needed to get on him early.”
DeJesus took care of that by ripping Miner’s first pitch into the right-center gap for a triple. DeJesus also contributed a single to a two-run fifth and provided the game’s final run with an RBI single in the eighth.
Aviles had two hits and two RBIs, but the Royals also got a pile of help from the Tigers’ bullpen when the decision remained in doubt.
Gary Glover walked Ryan Shealy with two outs and the bases loaded in the seventh. That pushed the lead to 4-2 after Detroit scored twice in the sixth against Meche.
Bobby Seay provided another gift with a two-out wild pitch in the eighth that allowed Alex Gordon to score from third. That was enough to ensure Detroit of its 10th loss in 11 games. Miner, 8-5, allowed four runs in six-plus innings.
The Royals are 71-86 with five games remaining. The Tigers dropped to 71-84 but will only play 161 games unless the American League Central race requires them to make up a rainout against Chicago.
“You want to finish as high as you can,” Detroit manager Jim Leyland said. “Right now we're obviously out of sync some — for some obvious reasons. But no excuses.”
The Royals have finished last in the AL Central for four straight years. They conclude the season with three games this weekend at Minnesota; the Tigers have four home games against Tampa Bay once the Royals leave town.
“The race is on,” manager Trey Hillman said, “but we’ve still got some work to do.”
And Meche still has one more start after joining Paul Byrd as the only Royals’ pitchers to win 13 games in the last 10 years. Byrd was 17-11 in 2002. Zack Greinke carries a 12-10 record into tonight’s game against the Tigers.
“I’ve got one more game to go,” Meche said, “and, hopefully, it means something to Minnesota. That will make it more exciting for us to be in there.”
It might mean something to the Royals, too.