DETROIT (AP) – The Kansas City Royals finally lost, but slugger Billy Butler hopes their impressive push in the AL Central will go on.
“This doesn’t end anything,” he said. “We’ve got 10-1 in our last 11 games, and we’re going home in first place. We just have to keep playing the way we are right now.”
Anibal Sanchez pitched seven sharp innings, and the Detroit Tigers snapped Kansas City’s 10-game winning streak with a 2-1 victory Thursday. J.D. Martinez hit a tiebreaking homer in the fourth for the Tigers, who avoided a four-game sweep and pulled within a half-game of the AL Central-leading Royals.
Sanchez (4-2) allowed five hits and a walk, keeping the Kansas City offense quiet even though he failed to strike out a batter.
Joba Chamberlain pitched the eighth, and struggling closer Joe Nathan struck out the side in the ninth for his 14th save in 18 chances.
Danny Duffy (4-6) allowed two runs and three hits in seven innings. He walked one and struck out five.
“We just had a great road trip, Danny Duffy just pitched a great game, and we lost a game to a great pitcher and a home run where I have no idea how J.D. Martinez hit the ball out of the park,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “All I can do is tip my cap to him, because he killed us all series.”
Butler gave the Royals a 1-0 lead with an RBI double in the first, but Miguel Cabrera drove in a run with a double of his own in the fourth. Cabrera was tagged out on a bizarre double play when right fielder Nori Aoki caught Victor Martinez’s flyball and threw back to the infield, where Cabrera was nonchalantly returning to second.
Shortstop Alcides Escobar caught the ball and made the tag. Cabrera was initially ruled safe, but the call was overturned on replay.
J.D. Martinez followed with a solo homer to right, his sixth of the year. He now has a nine-game hitting streak, with a .412 average in that span, and he hopes this win will end a stretch in which so much has gone badly for the Tigers. Detroit won for only the 10th time in its last 30 games.
“It’s funny, even talking to the umpires, they even chime in and say it. They’re like, `Dude, everything that’s going wrong just seems to be going wrong for you guys. You guys just got to grind through it,”‘ Martinez said. “You see the breaks that we’ve been getting. We hit the ball hard, it gets caught. We hit it soft, it gets caught. We get on base, the ball goes to the backstop, comes back, gets thrown out, we’re out of an inning. It’s just kind of like, craziness.”
Sanchez went without a strikeout for the first time in his career, but his fielders helped him. Third baseman Nick Castellanos reached over the railing of the Detroit dugout to catch a foul popup in the sixth.
Nathan, who signed with the Tigers in the offseason, brought a 6.57 ERA into the game. He struck out Butler to start the ninth – the Kansas City designated hitter argued the called third strike – and Salvador Perez went down swinging. With the crowd on its feet and anxious for a much-needed win, Nathan struck out Lorenzo Cain to end it.
“That looked like the Joe Nathan I’ve faced for years,” Butler said. “All those times with the Twins and then with Texas – the one with a few hundred saves and all those All-Star games. He’s had some tough moments in his career, but that looked like the same guy today.”
The Royals were without outfielder Alex Gordon, who sat out because of flu-like symptoms. Detroit outfielder Torii Hunter (hamstring) did not play either.
NOTES: The Tigers play at Cleveland on Friday night. Detroit RHP Rick Porcello (8-4) faces Cleveland RHP Corey Kluber (6-4). … The Royals host Seattle. Kansas City RHP James Shields (7-3) takes on Mariners RHP Hisashi Iwakuma (5-3).