Tigers get second half off on right foot with victory

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Detroit — The crowd, a large one at 37,447, came to its feet and stayed on its feet Friday.

It had been a long time since Comerica Park was this alive in the seventh inning, but in a 2-2 game Miguel Cabrera was coming to the plate with the bases loaded.

Against former Tiger Joakim Soria, Cabrera worked the count to 3-0 and the crowd was frenzied. But they sat down with a group harrumph after Soria struck Cabrera out on the next three pitches.

Victor Martinez brought them quickly back to their feet. He hit a ground ball against a deep infield over-shift, which caromed off Soria's glove, then fielded, dropped and fielded again in shallow right field by second baseman Whit Merrifield.

BOX SCORE: Tigers 4, Royals 2

Martinez beat the throw to first and both Jose Iglesias and Ian Kinsler scored — propelling the Tigers to a 4-2 win over the Royals.

“That was great base running to score that second run,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “That’s a big difference, a two-run lead versus a one-run lead. And I think that was as fast as I’ve seen Victor move in a while. I think he smelled a chance to get some RBIs.”

Nice way to start the post-All Star break charge. Which is exactly what Ausmus was talking about before the game when he said the next two and a half months were less a marathon and more of a sprint. 

Urgency heightened.

Henning: Pitching still holds the key to Ausmus’ fate

“We need to play well,” he said. “We got to the point where we were playing pretty well, though we didn’t do great in Toronto. But we have to play better. The wild card team isn’t going to be three games over .500. We have to play better and it needs to start now.”

Justin Verlander certainly held up his end of the bargain. He was masterful. With a fastball that rang 99 mph and was steady between 93-97, plus a biting slider and sinking change-up, he allowed just four hits and struck out 10 in seven innings.

“There’s always a question mark coming off the break,” he said. “I played catch every day but one over the break to keep my arm fresh as possible. But that first time off the mound is always weird, throwing off the slope. But I wasn’t too erratic. I felt pretty good.” 

And yet, when he walked off the mound in the seventh to another standing ovation, the Tigers trailed 2-1. That due largely to a misplayed line drive by Steven Moya in right field.

Kinsler hit the second pitch of the game from Royals starter Ian Kennedy into the seats in left field. It was his 35th career leadoff home run, tying him for eighth all-time with Bobby Bonds. 

That was all the offense the Tigers would muster until the seventh inning, but the way Verlander was pitching, it seemed like it might hold up.

“I don’t know if it was the break or what, but I know I saw 99 mph up there at one point, and 97 a bunch of times,” catcher James McCann said. “But overall, he threw it exceptionally well, regardless of the velocity.”

In the sixth inning, he walked Eric Hosmer and gave up a single to Kendrys Morales — two on, nobody out. Verlander got two quick strikes on Salvador Perez and threw him a high, 97 mph fastball.

Perez hit it hard to right field. Moya was playing deep, but instead of running to the wall and then tracking the ball, he eased back, feeling for the wall. The ball flew beyond his reach for a double, scoring both runners.

The second run scored when Kinsler relay throw caromed off the bag at second. But Verlander bowed his neck and got the next three outs, stranding Perez at second.

“Being around for a while allows you to slow the game down and not let things escalate from that point on,” Verlander said. “When a guy makes a mistake, you want to pick him up. You don’t want to dwell on the mistake. You want to say, ‘It happens. Let’s move forward and get out of this.’”

The Tigers didn’t do much against Kennedy (four hits and a run), but they got to reliever Luke Hochevar in the seventh.

Zimmermann, Norris likely to miss one more start

With one out, Tyler Collins, just recalled from Toledo to fill in for Justin Upton (bereavement leave), blasted a long home run over the 365-foot marker in right-center field. Before that blast, he had been just 2 for 22 in his brief time with the Tigers.

“He’s here in place of Justin Upton for a few days,” Ausmus said. “It’s not do or die, but it can’t hurt his chances (of staying up) by playing well.”

Iglesias followed with a single and then Kinsler, smartly, seeing the third baseman playing back, dropped a perfect bunt past Hochevar. 

Soria entered and walked Cameron Maybin. That set the stage for the emotional roller coaster provided by Cabrera and Martinez.

The Tigers bullpen closed it down. Justin Wilson dispatched Hosmer, Morales and Perez in the eighth. Closer Francisco Rodriguez pitched a scoreless ninth to earn his 25th save.

“It was pretty key for us to get off to a good start after the break,” Verlander said. “I remember last year we were in a similar position and we got off to a horrendous start after the break. We are on that fringe where we need to go. Hopefully, we start with some games at some, so maybe we can get on a roll.”

Twitter @cmccosky