Kansas City, Mo. — The Tigers and Royals played 19 games last season, 14 of them were decided by two runs or less. Both teams enhanced their rosters this year, infusing them with veteran talent and top prospects, but the intensity picked up right where it left off.
The Tigers, after having a runner thrown out at the plate in the sixth inning, broke a 2-2 tie with a pair of clutch two-out hits and beat the Royals 4-2 at Kauffman Stadium Thursday night.
“When you are trying to win games inside your division, they’re all rivalries,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said before the game. “It’s just two teams that are tired of being at the bottom of the division. Both of us are trying to re-enter the A.L. Central conversation.”
With the game tied 2-2, Royals lefty reliever Jake Brentz came in throwing 98-mph four-seam and two-seam fastballs and mid-90s change-ups in the top of the seventh. He struck out Akil Baddoo and Harold Castro around a walk to Spencer Torkelson.
Hinch sent up right-handed hitting Eric Haase to pinch hit for catcher Tucker Barnhart and a spark was lit. Haase singled to left, the ball leaving his bat with an exit velocity of 107 mph.
Victor Reyes, in a two-strike hole, lined a fastball up the middle to score Torkelson.
Austin Meadows followed with a bloop single to left, scoring Haase.
The Tigers bullpen made those runs stand up, pitching scoreless ball the rest of the way. Joe Jimenez, Alex Lange and Michael Fulmer recorded nine straight outs, setting up closer Gregory Soto for the ninth. He allowed one hit to record the save.
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There was some Miggy magic on this night, as well. In fact, it’s too bad the Comerica Park Miggy Milestone tracker wasn’t mobile. It would have been spinning all night.
Miguel Cabrera singled in his first three at-bats pulling him within six of 3,000 for his career. The first two were against Royals’ ageless starter Zack Greinke – two bullets to left field. The first one came in the Tigers’ two-run second inning.
One run scored when Greinke, on a 1-2 pitch with the bases loaded, hit Spencer Torkelson. Cabrera scored the second run, tagging at third on a medium-depth fly ball to left by Harold Castro. The throw from Andrew Benintendi beat Cabrera to the plate, but he slid to the back end of the plate and eluded the tag of catcher Salvador Perez.
Cabrera popped up, gave a fist punch and then strutted back to the dugout Vince McMahon-style.
His third hit, against reliever Collin Snider, came with the game still tied and Meadows on second in the sixth inning. Meadows, though, was thrown out at the plate by right fielder Whitt Merrifield.
Tigers starter Casey Mize was far from overpowering in his second start of the season but he battled and kept the damage to just two runs through five innings.
He had just two strikeouts, but both came at critical moments.
In the second inning, Mize struck out Michael A. Taylor swinging through a 3-2 slider with runners at second and third and one out. He ended the inning throwing four straight splitters to left-handed hitting Nicky Lopez – getting rollover ground out on the fourth one to end the inning.
Mize helped himself earlier in the inning, pouncing on a bunt attempt and aggressively throwing to second base to get a force out.
The Royals broke through for two runs against him in the fourth, but he was able to strand runners at second and third striking out Royals rookie Bobby Witt, Jr., looking at a 3-2 fastball.
The defense in that inning was a little spotty, as well. Hunter Dozier tripled to the wall in center, a ball that center fielder Akil Baddoo got turned around on. He got his glove on it near the wall, but couldn’t secure it as he half-slid into the wall.
Taylor was credited with an RBI single on a ball Jeimer Candelario couldn’t field cleanly at third base. The Royals also stole two bases in the inning.