DETROIT (AP) Bruce Chen’s outing fell apart in the middle innings, leaving Kansas City in too deep a hole against Justin Verlander.
It was definitely a setback for the Royals, who have little margin for error in the American League playoff race.
Prince Fielder homered off Chen, and Verlander pitched effectively into the seventh inning to lift the Detroit Tigers to a 6-3 victory over Kansas City on Friday night.
The loss left the Royals 3 1/2 games behind Tampa Bay in the chase for the final wild card. Kansas City is third in the AL Central, eight games behind division-leading Detroit.
“They had a really good plan going in. They were hacking early,” Chen said. “They prepared themselves really well.”
Part of the problem for the Royals is that Cleveland, the New York Yankees and Baltimore are between them and the Rays. Kansas City is trying to make the playoffs for the first time since winning the World Series in 1985.
Chen (7-3) allowed five earned runs and seven hits in 4 1/3 innings.
Verlander (13-11) allowed three runs and nine hits in 6 2/3 innings. Three relievers finished for the Tigers. Joaquin Benoit worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the eighth and got the final four outs for his 19th save in 19 chances.
“We had opportunities,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “We had the bases loaded in the eighth and couldn’t capitalize.”
Kansas City fell behind 6-1 in the fifth, and although the Royals rallied, Detroit’s bullpen was able to hold on. After Drew Smyly issued a one-out walk to Eric Hosmer in the eighth, Jose Veras came on and walked Billy Butler on four pitches. After taking ball one, Salvador Perez popped out to first, but Veras hit Mike Moustakas to load the bases.
On came Benoit, who has been excellent since becoming Detroit’s full-time closer. He struck out David Lough to end the threat.
Kansas City left fielder Alex Gordon overran Austin Jackson’s leadoff double in the Detroit first for an error, allowing Jackson to advance to third. He scored on Torii Hunter’s groundout to give the Tigers a 1-0 lead.
Kansas City tied it in the fourth on an RBI single by Perez, but Fielder’s flyball in the bottom of the inning barely cleared the wall in the right-field corner for a two-run shot. It was his 24th homer of the year.
Detroit added three runs in the fifth. Hunter hit a two-run single, and after an intentional walk to Miguel Cabrera, Hunter caught the Royals napping and broke for third. Chen was called for a balk, giving Hunter third and Cabrera second, and Fielder’s RBI single made it 6-1.
Verlander has pitched well in 2013, just not up to the terrific standard he set the previous two years. The Tigers are hoping the right-hander will find a groove late this season, and he was breezing along until the Royals rallied with a couple runs in the sixth. Butler’s RBI single made it 6-2, and Perez drove in Butler with a double.
“We put some good swings on Justin but he had some good stuff going tonight,” Hosmer said. “When he gets locked in out there and he’s throwing his off speed for strikes, you just can’t miss your pitch.”
Detroit did a decent job slowing down Kansas City’s vaunted running game. Catcher Alex Avila threw out Emilio Bonifacio trying to steal second in the fourth, and Verlander picked Jarrod Dyson off first the following inning.
“That’s twice in a row that I’ve been on the mound and we were able to throw out Bonifacio, which is not easy to do,” Verlander said. “It was on a breaking ball tonight, which is even more impressive. Alex made a great throw and I was quick to the plate.”
NOTES: Verlander struck out seven without a walk. … The Tigers sent RHP David Paulino to Houston as the player to be named in the deal that brought Veras to Detroit in July. … Butler went 2 for 3 off Verlander and is now 30 for 68 (.441) off the Detroit star. … Kansas City’s bullpen retired all 11 batters it faced, including seven strikeouts. … Detroit RHP Doug Fister (12-8) faces Kansas City RHP Ervin Santana (8-9) on Saturday night.