KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Justin Verlander lasted seven innings despite some balky defense behind him and the Detroit Tigers hung on to beat the Kansas City Royals 4-3 on Saturday night, moving their ace into a tie for the major league lead in wins.
Verlander (16-5) won his fifth straight start and improved to 13-2 in his career against Kansas City. The AL Cy Young Award contender allowed three runs on five hits with eight strikeouts in another solid performance.
Joaquin Benoit pitched out of a jam in the eighth for Detroit and Jose Valverde converted his 32nd straight save to start the season, matching the club record set by AL MVP Willie Hernandez in 1984.
Verlander pulled even with Yankees lefty CC Sabathia for most wins in the majors.
Danny Duffy (3-4) allowed three runs and five hits for Kansas City, but he was done in again by his pitch count. The rookie left-hander needed a career-high 105 to get through five innings, 30 more pitches than Verlander needed to get through the same point in the game.
Victor Martinez drove in a pair of runs before getting hurt, and Miguel Cabrera and Magglio Ordonez had the other RBIs for the AL Central-leading Tigers. They’ll go for the series sweep on Sunday.
The Royals were trailing 4-1 in the seventh when an error by Ryan Raburn gave them hope.
Raburn had just moved from third base to right field to start the inning. Eric Hosmer singled with one out and Jeff Francoeur doubled down the right-field line. Raburn’s throw overshot second base by a wide margin, allowing Hosmer to score. Weak-hitting Brayan Pena’s two-out double moments later drew Kansas City within 4-3.
The unflappable Verlander bounced back to get Alcides Escobar on a weak foul popup down the third-base line, preserving the Tigers’ one-run lead. Escobar promptly spiked his bat in frustration.
Verlander got off to an inauspicious start when Alex Gordon sent his first pitch screaming toward the outfield wall. Austin Jackson ranged back and leaped to make the catch in the deepest part of the ballpark, at the very least robbing Gordon of extra bases and quite possibly preventing a leadoff home run.
Verlander settled into a groove, striking out Melky Cabrera and Billy Butler to end the inning.
The only damage the Royals could muster against him through the first six innings came in the fifth, when Francoeur belted his 15th homer of the season. Verlander rebounded by striking out rookies Johnny Giavotella and Mike Moustakas, then set down the Royals in order in the sixth.
Detroit got its first two runs in the first inning, when Duffy issued back-to-back one-out walks and Cabrera followed with a double to right. The shaky start brought pitching coach Bob McClure to the mound, but it sure didn’t do much good. Martinez lined the very next pitch up the middle for an RBI single.
The Tigers made it 3-0 in the third when Cabrera doubled and Martinez singled, then answered Francoeur’s homer in the seventh. Alex Avila singled off Blake Wood, and Jackson reached first base when Wood threw the ball away on a soft grounder to the mound. Brennan Boesch moved the runners up and Ordonez hit an RBI groundout.
NOTES — Martinez left late in the game with a left knee sprain. He’ll be evaluated again Sunday. ... Max Scherzer (11-6) starts the series finale for Detroit. Bruce Chen (5-5) goes for Kansas City. ... Tigers manager Jim Leyland plans to skip Brad Penny’s turn in the rotation, allowing Verlander to pitch on regular rest in the finale of a three-game series at second-place Cleveland. The Tigers are off Monday. ... Bubba Starling was a no-show for Nebraska’s first football practice Saturday. The Royals picked the outfielder fifth overall in June, but he’s yet to sign while considering college football. Baseball’s signing deadline is Aug. 15.