July 11, 2014 at 1:00 am

Tigers 2, Royals 1

Eugenio Suarez's key stop in 7th inning helps Tigers protect 1-run victory over Royals

Kansas City, Missouri – It was the kind of compliment, encased in humor, that one player gives another.

But it doesn’t get said at all if it hadn’t meant so much.

“Good play,” Ian Kinsler said to shortstop Eugenio Suarez about the run-saving play Suarez made in the seventh inning of the Tigers’ 2-1 victory over the Royals on Friday night.

“You should have seen it.”

Suarez grinned. Kinsler wasn’t wrong by much, if at all, in his assessment.

The truth is Suarez barely did see the Jarred Dyson shot he grabbed on his backhand side and turned into the play of the game.

“I don’t know how I catch that ball,” Suarez said. “I just know I did.”

That’s the difference, though, about a 2-1 game — compared to, say, the 16-4 drubbing the Tigers handed the Royals on Thursday night.

There’s no key play in a rout. But in a one-run game?

“To me,” said bench coach Gene Lamont, “that play by Suarez (with the tying run at third) was it.”

Lamont handled the post-game interview for manager Brad Ausmus, who fell ill during the game and left the dugout in the second inning.

All the game’s scoring was done in the first three innings: The Tigers jumping on starter Danny Duffy (5-9) in the first four pitches for a double-single combo from Austin Jackson and Kinsler to take a 1-0 lead in the first.

The Royals countered with a run in their half of the first off winning pitcher Anibal Sanchez (6-3), but spent the rest of the game searching in vain for another.

Duffy’s throwing error in the third transformed a first-and-second situation into a second-and-third threat, thereby making Miguel Cabrera’s one-out fly ball to right a sacrifice fly when it otherwise would have been a routine second out.

The reason the Royals couldn’t overcome the mistake, though, is that Sanchez pitched well enough not to be harmed by the eight hits he allowed in seven innings.

And when it looked like the Royals had something cooking in the eighth, an interference call on Lorenzo Cain at the plate derailed their chances.

The Royals’ fans reacted to the call with boos, of course, because without it there would have been a runner on third in the eighth with no outs.

But plate umpire Chad Fairchild ruled that Cain had interfered with Bryan Holaday’s errant throw to second on Nori Aoki’s stolen base attempt.

Ruling Cain out, Fairchild also made Aoki return to first — and the inning eventually ended, as did the game, without another run for the Royals.

Joe Nathan encountered first-and-second trouble in the ninth, but earned his 19th save all the same by getting Aoki for the third out on a weak grounder to first.

The victory for the Tigers was their fifth in five games at Kauffman Stadium this season, but the first in which they’ve scored fewer than eight runs.

They also increased their lead over the Royals to 6½ games, easily the biggest lead any team has in the majors.

With two singles and a double, Jackson had three of the Tigers’ five hits, but took a called third strike in his fourth at-bat with runners at second and third in the seventh.

The Tigers also won despite J.D. Martinez striking out in all four of his at-bats.

No, it wasn’t offense that won this game. It was defense and pitching, with Sanchez stretching to seven the number of career starts he’s made against Kansas City in which he’s not allowed more than one run.

His 1.08 ERA, in fact, is the lowest of any active pitcher who’s made at least five starts against the Royals.

Suarez’s play was instrumental in keeping the Royals to just a run, of course.

But so was the interference call on Cain.

“He called it right away,” Lamont said of Fairchild, the plate umpire. “It was the right call.”

“He made me shorten up my stride,” Holaday said of Cain, “and my throwing hand hit him on the shoulder on my follow-through.”

Yep, that would be interference.

And, double yep, that would be the game.

tom.gage@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/Tom_Gage

Detroit Tigers' Rajai Davis runs past Kansas City Royals catcher Salvador Perez to score on a sacrifice fly by Miguel Cabrera during the third inning. The run held up as the Tigers won 2-1 Friday. / Charlie Riedel / Associated Press