Drama kings: Tigers take series on Upton's 2-run blast

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Kansas City, Mo. — With so many ups and downs in this series, in this season, you almost need to take Dramamine when you watch the Tigers.

Their series-winning 6-5 win over the Royals here Sunday was certainly a thrill-ride and not for the faint of heart. 

“I think we understand that if we keep playing inconsistent, we're not going anywhere; we're going to go home,” Miguel Cabrera said. “We don't want to go home. We're going to keep fighting to the end and try to make something happen. This is fun. 

“To play for something, this is fun. Trying to play for a spot in the playoffs, it's exciting. You need to come every day and play hard.”

Justin Upton’s 20th home run of the season, a dramatic, 406-foot, two-run blast to right-center field off Joakim Soria in the top of the eighth inning provided the game-winner.

BOX SCORE: Tigers 6, Royals 5

It came after the Tigers had blown a 4-1 lead in the bottom of the seventh.

“We needed to respond right there,” said Upton, who also doubled in a run earlier in the game. 

With all his ups and downs this season, Upton has 20 home runs and 64 RBIs this season. In his last 14 games, he’s hitting .346 with seven home runs and 14 RBIs.

“You have to stay confident that what you do on a yearly basis and how you prepare is going to show at some point,” he said. “It’s showing up now and I am having fun with it.”

Usually, a clutch home run like that is the dramatic apex of a game. Not in this one. 

After Shane Greene pitched a scoreless eighth inning, closer Francisco Rodriguez came on to seal the deal. He was greeted with a leadoff double by Alcides Escobar.

Jarrod Dyson, whose two-out triple off Alex Wilson keyed the Royals’ four-run seventh, was up next. He made a couple attempts to bunt Escobar to third, then on a 2-1 pitch lashed one down the line in right.

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Dyson thought he’d hit a game-winning home run, but the ball landed foul.

“From what I saw, it wasn’t even close to being fair,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “I was (sitting) right on the line and I knew it was foul halfway through its flight.”

That didn’t stop Royals manager Ned Yost from asking the umpires to look at a video replay. Which they did and 54 seconds later confirmed the call. The Tigers suspected it was a bit of gamesmanship by Yost, who may have been trying to ice Rodriguez.

“If it was, they did us a favor,” Ausmus said. “It allowed the shadows to creep out over the plate a little bit.”

Dyson ultimately grounded out to second baseman Ian Kinsler for the first out.

Next batter Alex Gordon also grounded out Kinsler, but on a shot that left the bat at 101 mph. Kinsler blocked it, kept it in front of him, held Escobar at third and threw Gordon out. The ball bloodied the ring finger on Kinsler’s right hand.

“Just get the out, man,” Kinsler said. “Just try to stop the ball no matter what. If it's to your left or to your right, just try to stop it and either get the guy at the plate or the out at first. Just try to make the play.”

Rodriguez then ended the game by getting Paulo Orlando to ground out to third.

Hard to ice a closer who has ice in his veins already.

“That's just the vet coming out in him,” catcher James McCann said. “They decided to challenge (the foul call) and it didn't faze him at all. He stayed right in it mentally and made his pitches. That was a big-time outing there.”

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It was Rodriguez’s 38th save of the season and the 424th of his career. He is now tied with John Franco for fourth on the all-time list.

“His poise and his experience are enormous,” Ausmus said. “They’re what make him so good.”

The win, coupled with the Orioles loss, puts the Tigers in a tie for the last wild-card spot.

“That's September baseball at its best,” McCann said. “That's postseason-on-the-line baseball. It's fun to be a part of and fun as a fan to watch. It's what you dream about in the offseason and spring training -- getting to this point in the season and getting to play for something."

The Tigers were up 4-1 and seemingly in total control heading into the bottom of the seventh.

J.D. Martinez, who singled and scored on Upton’s double in the second inning, smacked a 432-foot home run into the fountain in left field in the fourth. It was his 20th home run of the season.

The Tigers have five players with at least 20 home runs – Upton, Martinez, Cabrera, Kinsler and Victor Martinez – for the first time since 1997. 

Andrew Romine, who had two hits, and Kinsler, who had three, each knocked in a run in the top of the seventh. 

And with the way Daniel Norris was cruising along, the 4-1 lead seemed substantial. Through six innings, Norris had allowed just three hits, one a homer by Escobar, and had seven strikeouts.

But the Royals batted around in the seventh. Dyson’s two-run triple, which tied the game, came on a hard hit groundball down the first base line that Cabrera reached but couldn’t field.

“It was a tough play because it was in-between,” Cabrera said. “Either you go for the ball or you try to block it. Right there, I know I have the tying run at second base, so I try to block it. I tried to block it and the ball beat me.

“I mean, it caught me in-between. I was choosing to go like that (backhanding the ball) or to block the ball. When I was thinking about that, the ball hit my glove and beat me.”

Cabrera atoned by leading off the eighth with a single and scoring ahead of Upton on the home run. 

“I was running very fast, very fast,” he said with a smile. “I was excited.”

It was going to be a happy flight to Chicago.

“You are in September and you have an opportunity to make the playoffs,” Kinsler said. “That's all you can ask for at the end of the season, an opportunity. Right now we have an opportunity. It's no longer a long season.

“We've got 20-something games left. Let's see where it takes us.”

chris.mccosky@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @cmccosky