DETROIT -- The rebuilding Tigers dealt the Royals' Wild Card hopes a blow on Tuesday night, overcoming an early exit from Anibal Sanchez with seven second-inning runs off the struggling Jason Vargas and two-homer games from JaCoby Jones and John Hicks for a 13-2 win at Comerica Park.
The win ended the Royals' six-game win streak over the Tigers since July 19. Kansas City fell three games behind the Angels for the second American League Wild Card spot.
The Tigers hadn't led in any game since former ace Justin Verlander's win against the Rockies at Coors Field on Wednesday. They seemed on their way to a sixth straight loss after Whit Merrifield scored in the first following a comebacker that bruised Sanchez's right calf and knocked him out of the game. But two-run home runs from Jones and Mikie Mahtook paced a second-inning surge that helped the Tigers snap their five-game losing streak. Hicks tacked on solo homers in the fourth and eighth innings, while Jose Iglesias also homered.
"The guys had done their extensive study on Sanchez and they all had their game plan," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "When he gets knocked out of the game, then you just have to make your adjustments. We've got all the video on the bench and all the numbers."
Vargas (14-10) gave up more runs in the second inning than he had in any other start this season, suffering his fourth consecutive loss and his second early-inning exit in as many outings against the Tigers this season. Lorenzo Cain homered in the sixth to give the Royals a club-record-tying 168 jacks on the season.
"First inning, [Vargas] was down in the zone, hitting his spots pretty well," Yost said. "Second inning, he was just up in the zone and out over the plate."
Vargas said he does not feel any fatigue considering his heavy workload of innings following Tommy John surgery in 2015. He just needs to do a better job of staying down in the zone and handling situations with runners on base.
"I guess I have the excuse of having surgery about a year and a half ago," Vargas said. "Nobody else cares about that, though. The other team doesn't care about that. The bottom line is, if I'm going to go out there, I've got to do a better job of putting us in a position to win a game and not play catch-up."
"He's got to use his command, and he's got to use his changeup," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. "I think that's why you saw so many fastballs hit the other way. Guys were very aware of the changeup. In theory, if you're hitting the fastball the other way, it allows you to still stay on the changeup enough to pull it."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Jaye saves the day: Though Myles Jaye was a starter at Double-A Erie and Triple-A Toledo, he has been a long reliever as a September callup for the Tigers, and he wasn't expecting to take the mound for the second batter of the game. Sanchez's injury forced Jaye into action, and though Merrifield went on to score, Jaye allowed nothing else over his 2 1/3 innings for his first Major League win, followed by 2 2/3 perfect innings from Blaine Hardy.
JaCoby jack: Though Jeimer Candelario's second-inning double put the Tigers in front for good, it was Jones' opposite-field homer that provided some cushion. Jones hadn't homered since his Opening Day drive off then-White Sox lefty Jose Quintana, but he got enough of a Vargas fastball on the outside corner to send it out to right with a 101.7-mph exit velocity, according to Statcast™, for a 5-2 Tigers lead.
"I haven't hit a home run oppo in a long time," Jones said. "It felt good."
"I came in after the second one and I told him, 'I couldn't let you do it by myself.'" -- Hicks, on matching Jones' two-homer game
"I guess it's a special time. We've hit a lot more homers this year, got a lot more power on this team. Guys are really driving the ball this year. It's always nice, guys hitting home runs and finding ways to score runs as much as possible." -- Cain, on his sixth-inning home run
WHAT'S NEXT Royals: Right-hander Jason Hammel (7-10, 4.80 ERA) will look to help the Royals in their Wild Card hunt when he starts Wednesday's series finale against the Tigers at 6:10 p.m. CT. Hammel has two no-decisions against the Tigers this season, allowing five earned runs over 10 2/3 innings in the two starts.
Tigers: Left-hander Matthew Boyd (5-8, 5.92) gets the start in Wednesday's series finale against the Royals at Comerica Park as the Tigers try to win a home series for the first time since the end of July. They're also seeking back-to-back victories for the first time since their four-game winning streak at the beginning of August. First pitch is scheduled for 7:10 p.m. ET.