DETROIT — Forget Friday the 13th. For the Royals, just about any night involving Justin Verlander is bad luck.
And while, yes, they did keep Verlander, a long-time tormentor, from achieving a place in history, the Royals managed little else Friday night in a 3-1 loss to the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park.
"He pretty much just continued what he did in his last start," right fielder Jeff Francoeur said. "What's really unfair as a hitter is he does such a good job at staying at 92-93 (mph) early on; it gets to the sixth, seventh and eighth and he revs it up 96-97-98."
Verlander's last start was a no-hitter against the Toronto Blue Jays. And he carried his bid for another one into the sixth inning before Melky Cabrera disappointed the crowd of 33,641 with a triple into the right-center gap.
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"I knew where I was at," Verlander admitted. "I started counting them (the outs) in the third or fourth. Shoot, probably the first."
That triple also snatched a shutout away from Verlander, who walked Alcides Escobar earlier in the inning. The crowd responded with a momentary groan before shifting to an extended cheer.
"He's a great pitcher," Cabrera said, "but he threw me a changeup and left it up. I was able to hit it good."
Verlander's only show of emotion was a kick at the cleat-cleaner behind the mound. He then stranded Cabrera by striking out Alex Gordon, and he received a standing ovation as he walked to the dugout.
The Tigers built a 3-0 lead by scoring single runs against Luke Hochevar (3-4) in the first, second and fourth innings. The first and third runs came on homers by Austin Jackson and Jhonny Peralta.
"They came out swinging and tried to ambush me early in counts," Hochevar said. "We adjusted. That doesn't mean I stopped throwing fastballs early in the count. I just tried to make better pitches."
All attention thereafter shifted to Verlander and his bid to join Johnny Vander Meer as the only pitcher in history to pitch no-hitters in consecutive starts. The innings rolled by, and the anticipation sharpened until Cabrera's triple.
"I was trying to throw it down and away," Verlander said, "but it came out of my hand a little flat."
The other signature moment came when Verlander ended the seventh inning by unleashing a nasty slider for a called third strike on Mike Aviles, who sent his bat pin-wheeling toward the Royals' dugout in a mixture of frustration and admiration.
"That pitch was painted," Aviles said. "I saw it out of his hand, and I just couldn't do anything with it. Why even try to swing?"
Verlander pitched through the eighth inning before departing after allowing one run and two hits — Matt Treanor had a leadoff double in the eighth. Verlander struck out seven and walked three in a 105-pitch performance.
Jose Valverde pitched the ninth and worked around Gordon's leadoff single for his ninth save in nine chances. Gordon reached second on a steal and third on a wild pitch but go no farther.
Verlander is 11-2 in 17 career starts against the Royals with a 2.47 ERA. The loss dropped the Royals, 20-18, behind Detroit, 21-18, and into third place in the American League Central Division.
After Verlander rolled through the first inning on 12 pitches, the Tigers grabbed a 1-0 lead when Jackson led off with a 402-foot homer into the Royals' bullpen beyond the left-center wall.
"I felt that was where I wanted to make that pitch," Hochevar said. "I'm being aggressive and trying to get ahead."
Billy Butler started the second inning with a walk, but Verlander retired the next three hitters on routine fly balls. The Royals didn't get another runner until Escobar's one-out walk in the sixth.
The Tigers added another run in the second after Victor Martinez and Don Kelly opened the inning with successive singles. Martinez scored when the Royals couldn't turn a double play on Alex Avila's slow one-out grounder to second.
Only a textbook block of the plate by Treanor prevented the Tigers from scoring again in the third. Jackson led off with a walk and stole second before attempting to score on Brennan Boesch's one-out single to right.
First baseman Eric Hosmer cut the throw from Jeff Francoeur, which held Boesch at first, and wheeled and threw home. Treanor blocked the plate by extending his leg, which forced Jackson into a wide slide. Treanor applied the tag for the out.
But the Tigers made it 3-0 on Peralta's two-out homer in the fourth, a 374-foot drive that just cleared the left-field wall. That was plenty for Verlander.
"I'm ahead 2-1 in the count," Francoeur marveled, "and I see nasty curveballs drop in. It's just something else. We battled but, sometimes, you just know you got beat by a good pitcher. That's the case tonight."