Tigers rally in 7th for Verlander to get past Royals
By Jason Beck and Jeffrey Flanagan
DETROIT -- Justin Verlander's first double-digit strikeout performance against the Royals in seven years nearly wasn't enough, but Tyler Collins' game-tying home run and Victor Martinez's go-ahead infield single pushed the Tigers ahead for good in the seventh for a 4-2 win to open a three-game division clash Friday at Comerica Park.
Verlander (9-6) struck out nine of the first 19 batters he faced. His 10 strikeouts marked his highest total against Kansas City since fanning 11 on July 7, 2009, but Salvador Perez rallied the Royals in the sixth with an opposite-field RBI double over Steven Moya's head in front of the right-field wall, with the go-ahead run scoring on an Ian Kinsler throwing error at the end of the play.
"Verlander was just fantastic," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "He had everything working it seemed."
Collins, called up earlier in the day with Justin Upton on the bereavement list, evened the score with a 406-foot drive, per Statcast™, off Luke Hochevar. Former Tigers closer Joakim Soria nearly kept it at that with a bases-loaded strikeout of Miguel Cabrera, but Martinez's comebacker deflected off him and rolled into the hole between second and first, sending Jose Iglesias and Kinsler home.
"That's as fast as I've seen [Martinez] run in a while," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. "I think he smelled a chance to get some RBIs."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED The Verlander nightmare: Among those hitters who have faced Verlander 30 or more times, no one has hit him better than Perez, who came into the game with a .478 average (22-for-46). Perez was back at work in the two-run sixth. With runners on first and second, Perez went after a 1-2 fastball and lifted a deep fly to right that eluded Moya and bounced off the wall.
Almost good enough: Soria was making his first appearance at Comerica Park since July 23, 2015, and it didn't end well. Soria came on with one out and two on in a 2-2 game in the seventh. He walked the first hitter, but after falling behind 3-0 to Cabrera, Soria struck him out. Soria got ahead of Martinez 0-2 and induced a one-hopper back to the mound. But Soria couldn't handle it, and the ball skipped away toward second baseman Whit Merrifield, who was playing in short right field because of the shift and had no play. Two runs scored.
"That's a play I make 95 percent of the time," Soria said. "I just thought it was hit harder than it was." More >
Kinsler commences with home run: After Verlander struck out the side in the first inning, Kinsler led off the bottom half by sending Ian Kennedy's second pitch deep to left field. It was Kinsler's 35th career leadoff home run, tying him with Bobby Bonds for eighth in Major League history. Kinsler played a clutch role in Detroit's seventh-inning rally with a one-out bunt single.
"One way to start your game," Kennedy said. "Welcome back from the All-Star break."
But Yost said Kennedy gave him what he needed -- 5 1/3 innings of one-run ball.
"He pitched great," Yost said. "He gave up the leadoff homer to Kinsler and then just threw the ball really well. He gave us a chance to win that game."
Verlander recovers: Lost in the aftermath of Perez's double was that Verlander still had nobody out and a potential add-on run on second base. Verlander, who had been throwing his fastball around 96 mph all game, cranked it up to 99 mph on his way to retiring the Royals in order from there, striking out Alex Gordon before Cheslor Cuthbert and Brett Eibner popped out.
"I think that's one of those things, being around for a while, that allows you to kind of slow the game down for a bit and not let things escalate from that point forward," Verlander said. More >
"I think he knew he threw 99." -- Tigers catcher James McCann, asked if he told Verlander what the radar-gun reading on his fastball was
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Verlander has struck out at least one batter in 300 consecutive appearances since May 4, 2007. It's the longest streak among active pitchers and the 10th-longest streak among all pitchers since 1914.
WHAT'S NEXT Royals: Kansas City turns to left-hander Danny Duffy (4-1, 3.09 ERA) for the second game of the series Saturday at 6:10 p.m. CT. Duffy is making his 12th start of the season. He gave up two runs over 6 1/3 innings in his last start against the Mariners in a no-decision.
Tigers:Mike Pelfrey (2-8, 4.58 ERA), who ended his first half with back-to-back quality starts, opens his second half against the Royals in a 7:10 p.m. ET start at Comerica Park. Kansas City put up four runs, three earned, on eight hits and five walks over five innings against Pelfrey on April 21 at Kauffman Stadium.