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Kansas City, Mo. – One team looked like it had played big games before – and had won big games before.

The other team – um, er – looked like it was forgetting its lines on stage.

With the first-place Tigers beating the second-place Kansas City Royals, 10-1, on Friday night at trying-to-be-noisy Kauffman Stadium, you don't have to be told which team was which.

From the three runs they scored in the first inning, to the five they added in the fifth – and eventually to the 19 hits they ended up with – the Tigers did everything right.

And from Alex Gordon, the Royals' three-time Gold Glove left fielder, charging a liner sailing over his head in the first – the major gaffe of the game – to former Tiger Omar Infante looking lazy on a double-play throw to first, the Royals did everything wrong.

With the lopsided victory, the Tigers – who have nine games remaining – opened a 1½ game lead over the Royals in the American League Central standings.

"Obviously it's a huge series for us," said winning pitcher Justin Verlander, "but that's what I love about this team. We always seem to know the moment and how to capture it.

"We seem to play our best baseball when we need to."

Or as Torii Hunter put it, "I don't believe in statement games; we just go out and play the game we know how to play."

Already looking ahead, manager Brad Ausmus downplayed the margin by which the Tigers won.

"I don't know if 'surprised' is the word," he said. "Sometimes there are games like this. I'm glad it went our way."

From the start, it was all Tigers. So much so that many of the Royals starters were out of the lineup by the sixth inning, probably because of an early start Saturday.

So much so, too, that the thunder sticks given to fans before the game didn't become the noisy nuisance they were intended to be.

That's what happens when a big game becomes a big flop for one of the teams.

It wasn't a flop for the Tigers, though. While they were spraying hits everywhere, starting with the five they had in the first inning, Verlander (14-12) was keeping the Royals off the board.

The Royals threatened at times, but their threats went nowhere. Had they capitalized on a second-and-third chance with one out in the second, they would have at least taken a chunk out of the Tigers' 4-0 lead at the time.

The lead not only withstood the challenge, but grew to 5-0 in the fourth, the inning in which starter Jason Vargas was yanked, and to 10-0 in the fifth.

When asked before the game why he thought Verlander would pitch well, Ausmus said with conviction, "because he understands the enormity of the game."

Asked about Verlander's performance later, Ausmus said, "He certainly seemed up for this game.

"But I think it was business. These guys recognized the importance of the game; it was all business."


In not the best of his seasons, Verlander turned in the best of his starts while working with rookie catcher James McCann, who had almost no history of catching him.

"I think he's caught one of my bullpens," said Verlander, "but what an incredible job he did. We were on the same page a lot."

At the plate, the Tigers simply were on their game – and that included two singles, the first two hits of his major-league career – for McCann, who might be heard from several more times if Alex Avila's disorientation doesn't disappear.

What set the tone, though, and set it early wasn't just Gordon's blunder in left on Miguel Cabrera's scalded liner, but a pair of singles on 1-2 pitches, indicating Vargas had nothing with which to fool the Tigers.

"The key was getting him up in the zone," said Hunter. "We got him up and didn't miss our pitches."

It was on a 1-2 pitch that Ian Kinsler led off the game with a single up the middle.

It was also on a 1-2 pitch that Eugenio Suarez, when it looked like the Royals might escape with two-run damage in the first, singled in Victor Martinez with two outs.

Equipped with a three-run lead, Verlander simply went about the business of protecting it. He didn't do it by being overpowering. He had just four strikeouts.

He did by being equal to the moment.

Before allowing a leadoff double in the Royals' eighth, then exiting with one out, five of the six hits Verlander had allowed were singles – his night being one of unadorned efficiency.

The only run off him was the one the double in the eighth led to, bringing a rather frustrated cheer from fans who had expected something closer than the one-sided game they saw.

tom.gage@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/Tom_Gage

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