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Kansas City, Mo. — The win was bigger than big. That's really the bottom line.

With two runs in the seventh, then riding the rapids of the eighth and ninth, the Tigers beat the Kansas City Royals, 3-2, on Saturday, stretching their lead in the American League Central to 2.5 games with nine games to go.

Max Scherzer (17-5) was the winning pitcher. Joe Nathan earned his 33rd save, retiring pinch-hitter Raul Ibanez on a routine grounder to first for the game's final out with runners at second and third.

Not easy, in other words.

Knowing how much the game meant to both teams, and how much drama was involved in the winning of it what with a pivotal reversal of a run-scoring play in the sixth inning Nathan and Miguel Cabrera got their signals mixed in a mini-celebration at first after the final out.

"It looked very awkward, I know," Nathan said. "We were trying to high-five and chest bump, but missed both. You saw the emotion coming out, though."

For the Royals, there was more frustration after Friday night's 10-1 loss.

For the Tigers, there was joy. They've taken the first two games of an immensely important series and now have a chance to sweep.

"This is an absolute dogfight to win the division," Scherzer said. "No one wants to go to the wild card. Winning the division is so crucial to your playoff chances.

"That's just the way it is. They're the biggest games of the year and we're playing our best baseball."

But even a team's best baseball depends sometimes on how the umpires see a play or on how they reverse themselves when they don't see a play.

That's why a Royals' run that didn't count played as much of a role as any of those that did.

It looked as if the Tigers had fallen behind 2-1 in the bottom of the sixth when shortstop Eugenio Suarez failed to catch a toss from second baseman Ian Kinsler, after Kinsler caught Omar Infante's one-out liner with runners at second and third.

On the apparent error, Salvador Perez, the Royals baserunner returning to third after the catch, changed direction and scored.

But he didn't tag up at third base on the ball that was caught and the mistake was caught by the Tigers, who appealed the play.

Specifically, it was caught by infielder Hernan Perez in the Tigers' dugout. Perez told coach Omar Vizquel in Spanish, and Vizquel quickly informed manager Brad Ausmus, who went out to speak with the umpires.

Said crew chief Larry Vanover to a pool reporter about the appeal: "Ausmus comes out and wants to challenge the play; that he didn't tag up. I said, 'O.K., I'm like 90 percent (sure) that retagging on a line drive or a line drive is not a reviewable play' and he said, 'What's the difference between missing a base and tagging up?'"

The difference is that missing a base is reviewable. Tagging up is not.

In effect, it gave the umpires a chance to get a call right that was obviously wrong and they took it.

"We came to the consensus, out of crew consultation, that he didn't tag up," Vanover said. "He started back, but didn't touch the bag. So at the point, we overturned the (initial) call and signaled the guy out."

With the score tied, instead of the Royals being up by a run, it was a huge turn of events for both teams every bit as big as the two runs the Tigers, coming off the reversal, scored against starter James Shields in the seventh.

Until then, Torii Hunter's home run in the fourth had been the Tigers' only run. But with J.D. Martinez on first, the top of the seventh inning looked harmless enough for the Tigers with two outs.

Shields, however, walked Suarez and threw a wild pitch, allowing the runners to take second and third.

At that point, Tyler Collins pinch-hit for catcher Bryan Holaday and, with a fine piece of hitting, stroked a two-out, tie-breaking single to center that drove in Martinez from third.

A bloop single to right by Rajai Davis that knocked in Suarez made it a two-run lead for the Tigers.

Instead of having their first lead of the series, the Royals were down by two runs.

When the call was reversed in the sixth, though, they didn't seem all that surprised because it was clear Perez had made a major blunder by not tagging up at third. Manager Ned Yost put up only a tepid argument.

Yost was at center stage of the game's biggest mystery, though: Why did Nori Aoki, Kansas City's hottest hitter, bunt twice for sacrifices very early in the game?

Both times he moved the runners successfully, but also both times they were stranded in scoring position.

After Alcides Escobar led off the first for the Royals with a double, Aoki sacrificed him to third. That bunt was on his own, but Yost had no problem with it.

"His job is either to get him in or get him to third," Yost said.

The strategy backfired when both Josh Willingham and Alex Gordon struck out with Escobar on third.

The second bunt, this one called by Yost, occurred in the third with runners at first and second and no outs. Aoki moved the runners to second and third.

The move was a surprise because the Royals were taking the bat out of the hands of their hottest hitter (.436 in September). This time Willingham fouled out to first for the second out before Gordon struck out the second time.

The Royals scored a run off Joba Chamberlain in the eighth, and put runners at second and third in the ninth only to have the game end on Ibanez's grounder to first.

Followed, of course, by that bungled high-five/chest bump combo from Nathan and Cabrera.

tom.gage@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/Tom_Gage

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