Tigers close gap with 9-5 win over Royals

Justin Verlander (13-12) allowed four runs and six hits in seven innings Monday.

Elizabeth Conley/AP

DETROIT — One down, two to go.

The Tigers knew how important it was to win Monday’s series opener against Kansas City, and they didn’t try to hide their happiness after a 9-5 victory. The win moved Detroit within a game of the Royals in the AL Central with two games left in the series.

"I expected a lot of energy from the team today, and that’s what you saw," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. "We’re looking up at Kansas City in the standings and this is our chance to make up some ground on them, so I knew these guys would be ready to go."

Justin Verlander might be struggling through one of the worst seasons of his career, but he stepped up on Monday just like he has in so many other big games. Verlander’s stats weren’t fantastic — he allowed four runs in seven innings — but he didn’t mind.

"It is a lot easier to pitch when your guys go out and get you eight runs in the first three innings," Verlander said. "I didn’t like giving up two runs in the third, especially after we had just taken the lead, but I went back and looked at the video and they were all good pitches.

"Kansas City just has a really good lineup, and they can hit good pitches."

Verlander allowed two more runs in the seventh, with a small blister affecting his fastball command. Ausmus said that the blister will not be a problem going forward, and Verlander wasn’t worried about the blip in his ERA.

"When you are up 8-2 in the seventh, you are pitching to the scoreboard," Verlander said. "With a lead like that, you are pitching to contact and trying to get deep into the game to save the bullpen. One run doesn’t really matter in a situation like that, as long as you are getting outs."

The last run Verlander allowed could have had huge consequences for the Tigers, however. Lorenzo Cain hit a ball into the right-center-field gap, and both center fielder Don Kelly and right fielder Torii Hunter called for the ball. Hunter made the catch, but Kelly couldn’t quite avoid him.

Kelly smacked into Hunter’s arm, sending his glove and the ball flying. The collision itself wasn’t violent, but the back of Hunter’s head slammed into the ground. As Cain raced around the bases for an inside-the-park homer, Kelly wasn’t paying much attention.

"That was awful," Kelly said of seeing Hunter on the ground. "Just awful."

Hunter remained down for several moments, but passed a concussion test on the field and another after the game.

"Obviously, when you see a guy go down like that, you are thinking about a concussion, but (Tigers trainer) Kevin (Rand) gave him the tests and asked him the questions, and he got everything right," Ausmus said. "We eventually took him out when he said he had a bit of a headache, so they ran the tests again, and Kevin said he passed. We don’t think it is going to be a problem."

By that point, the Tigers had finished off the game and had begun to focus their attention on two things — Tuesday night’s rematch and the football game (Lions-Giants) going on across the street at Ford Field.

"How cool is this?" Verlander asked. "This is just an awesome day to be a Detroit sports fan. You get to experience us winning what is, at least to this point, our biggest game of the season, and then you’ve got the Lions playing on Monday Night Football and Calvin Johnson already has two touchdowns. This is just great."