DETROIT -- The Tigers' transition from pursuer to pursued in the American League Wild Card race went swimmingly on Friday night. Victor Martinez, Justin Upton and Cameron Maybin all homered off Danny Duffy to provide an early lead for Michael Fulmer, who struck out nine Royals over seven innings for his first win in five weeks with an 8-3 victory at Comerica Park.
Detroit's fifth consecutive win maintained its half-game lead over Baltimore for the second Wild Card spot.
"I think there's a little bit of a sense of urgency now," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. "This is our last homestand. This is our last chance at home to try and do something in the standings. ... For some reason, maybe I was the only one that felt it, but I thought there was more energy."
An expected pitching duel between two of the AL ERA leaders never materialized, thanks largely to Detroit's home-run barrage off Duffy (12-3) in his first loss to an AL Central opponent this season. Upton doubled in a run in the first inning before sending a line drive out to left for his 27th home run in the third, two batters after Martinez hit his 26th.
"I did not execute," Duffy said. "I cost my team a chance to win today. I just didn't have it. But I'll tell you what, I'll be out there every five days, and be ready to go again.
"[The Tigers] are in it. They're fighting for a [playoff] spot. You saw it with us last year. They are fighting for their life. They've got that hunger. They're locked in."
Once Maybin belted a two-run homer to left-center in the fourth, the Tigers had built a six-run lead for Fulmer (11-7), who picked up his first win since a four-hit shutout at Texas on Aug. 14. He struck out four of Kansas City's first six batters, and nine for the game. Paulo Orlando's sixth-inning infield single accounted for the lone run.
"There wasn't a lot of hard contact," Ausmus said. "He did a nice job, and he was in the strike zone a lot, attacked the hitters. I thought all his pitches were good."
With the loss, the Royals' elimination number from postseason play fell to 3.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED V-Mart gets Duffy again: Martinez entered the game 7-for-18 against Duffy over the last two seasons, including two home runs as part of a three-homer game on June 16. After a first-inning walk, Martinez homered again off Duffy, this time a solo shot to left leading off the third for to give the Tigers a 3-0 lead.
Two-hit Whit is back: Royals second baseman Whit Merrifield recorded his first two-hit game of the road trip. Merrifield beat out an infield grounder in the fourth and advanced to third on a single to center by Kendrys Morales. Merrifield was stranded when Orlando tapped into a double play. Merrifield singled and scored on a single by Orlando in the sixth.
"[Fulmer] was really good," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "There was a big difference this time since we saw him last time. He was right on top of his game. Really good slider down in the zone. Good fastball on both corners. Good changeup. Really on top of his game."
Upton strikes again: Two batters after Martinez homered, Upton continued his late-season surge by turning on a Duffy fastball for a line drive out to left, his 14th home run since Aug. 21. Statcast™ projected the exit velocity at 113.5 mph, his second-hardest home run of the season.
We, as a team, as a whole, from the first inning on, we battled at-bats," Upton said. "Duffy's been tough on us all year, so I think we came in with a game plan."
Rookie shines: Rookie Kevin McCarthy, who got the Royals out of a jam in a high-leverage spot in Cleveland earlier this week, came in for Duffy in the fourth and promptly retired all four batters he faced. The Royals plan to get a good look at him over these final eight games.
"I thought today, being back home, with the music in the background, the fans cheering, it was a little bit of a different atmosphere. We're hoping that the rest of this homestand, the next six games, we see similar results, and we see the same atmosphere in the stadium. There was a palpable difference in the ballpark." -- Ausmus, on the home crowd
Tigers shortstop Jose Iglesias exited after six innings with a bruised right hand sustained when Cheslor Cuthbert's errant throw from third base hit Iglesias as he reached the bag at first. Iglesias ran the bases, scoring on a bases-loaded walk to Martinez, before Andrew Romine replaced him at shortstop to begin the seventh inning. X-rays were negative, and Iglesias is day to day. More >
UPON FURTHER REVIEW
The Royals challenged an out call at first base on a potential inning-ending double play ball hit by Morales in the sixth inning. The call was overturned, and Morales was ruled safe, putting runners on first and third. The call was huge because Orlando, the next hitter, singled in a run, ending Fulmer's shutout bid. Ausmus was not happy, believing the Royals took too long to challenge as most of the Tigers had already made it to the dugout. More >
WHAT'S NEXT Royals: Right-hander Yordano Ventura (11-11, 4.35 ERA) takes the mound on Saturday at 12:10 p.m. CT for the middle game of the series at Comerica Park. Ventura is coming off a complete-game win over the White Sox on Monday, giving up nine hits while striking out five.
Tigers: Left-hander Daniel Norris (3-2, 3.63) takes the ball on Saturday at 1:10 p.m. ET looking to continue Detroit's winning ways. The Tigers have won each of his last five outings, three of them quality starts.