Statement game: Royals pound Verlander, put Tigers on notice

Alex Gordon and the Royals cranked out a season-high 17 hits on Monday night.

Paul Sancya/AP

No doubt about it: This was a statement game.

The sizzling Royals, who hadn’t beaten the Detroit Tigers in five tries this season, hammered the Tigers on Monday night, 11-8, and moved within a half-game of first in the American League Central.

The Royals now have won eight straight games and sent notice not only to the Tigers but to the rest of the Central that they are to be taken seriously this season.

"Of course, it’s big to come in here and play good baseball," manager Ned Yost said in the FOX Sports Kansas City postgame show. "We’ve been doing a nice job of getting big innings lately."

The Royals busted out with a season-high 17 hits and continued their amazing offensive surge under new hitting coach Dale Sveum, for whom they are scoring over five runs per game in 17 games. They also are 13-4 during that stretch.

Left-hander Jason Vargas was the recipient of the offensive barrage and he did his part, containing the Tigers through seven mostly tidy innings. He gave up seven hits and two runs.

3 UP

— Omar is Mr. Clutch. One of the reasons the Royals were so interested in signing Omar Infante in the off-season was that they had seen firsthand how good he was in the clutch — against them. And now they are seeing him coming through when they need it, in a Royals uniform.

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Infante, recently mired in a 7-for-51 slump, has snapped out of his funk in a big way. "He’s been coming on lately," Yost said.

Infante got a big RBI single in the fifth that got the Royals on the board, but then came one of the two huge at-bats of the game: Infante, with the Royals leading 4-2 and the game still in doubt, destroyed a high fastball from Justin Verlander with two on in the sixth for a three-run homer. That put the Royals up 7-2 and gave them plenty of breathing room.

— Billy still owns Verlander. It is well-documented how well Billy Butler hits Verlander — a career .432 average coming into Monday’s game. And Butler continued to punish Verlander by smashing a bases-loaded double to deep center field that gave the Royals a 4-2 lead. That, of course, was the turning point. Butler took a fastball on the outside corner, went with it and launched it well over 400 feet from the plate as it one-hopped the fence — it likely would have been a homer in just about every park in the league.

"He hits No. 1 starters well," Yost noted. "He hits Verlander, Chris Sale, he hits good starters."


— Catch of the year. The Royals were up fairly comfortably, 7-2, in the bottom of the sixth when the Tigers showed a bit of life with a runner on second and one out. Now, the Tigers are not a team to take lightly and there aren’t many leads that are safe with them. That’s why it was a bit concerning when J.D. Martinez shot a drive toward the right-center-field gap. Center fielder Lorenzo Cain tore after it and made a spectacular full-length diving catch to rob Martinez.

Definitely a candidate for the catch of the year, and a big catch in the game. If that ball falls or goes to the wall, it is 7-3 with another runner in scoring position. And the Tigers would still have felt a part of the game. Not the case, thanks to Cain, who continues to make a strong bid for a Gold Glove.

3 DOWN

— Billy on the bases. It’s hard to pick on Butler after the night he had offensively, but he was an adventure on the bases. He walked to lead off the second, and with one out he was on second base with Cain up. Cain sent a drive to right-center and for some reason, Butler kept on running as the ball was caught. It was an easy double play as either Butler forgot how many outs there were or he was convinced the ball would go to the wall (in which case he still should have gone halfway because he would have scored easily). And after his double, Butler got thrown out at home from second base after Sal Perez singled to left.

— Nit-picking No. 1. Cain, who had a terrific night, probably made a poor play when he was on third with one out in the sixth and Alcides Escobar up. Esky hit a one-hopper to third, and with the contact play on, Cain was off toward the plate. But Cain stopped about 10 feet from home plate and wound up getting in a rundown for an out. With his speed, Cain probably would have beat the throw home as the throw came in high and wide.

— Nit-picking No. 2. It likely wasn’t the wisest choice by Yost to bring in left-hander Donnie Joseph, even with a nine-run lead in the ninth. Joseph was called up before the Cleveland series mainly to face a left-hander or two. He clearly was intimidated by the moment Monday, trying to get the last three outs in a mop-up win. Joseph appeared nervous and unsure of himself, couldn’t find the strike zone and wound up giving up six runs, including a grand slam to Martinez.

Fortunately, Michael Mariot came on to get the final out to save the Royals from losing in epic fashion — possibly blowing a nine-run lead in the bottom of the ninth.

Yes, Yost was trying to save any of his big guns in the pen, especially with such a huge lead. But this was too big of a game to take even the slightest chance. This was a game Yost could have turned over to Kelvin Herrera or Aaron Crow in the ninth, two pitchers who know how to get the final three outs. Worse yet, Joseph isn’t likely to have any confidence at all now whenever, if ever, he gets used again.

You can follow Jeffrey Flanagan on Twitter at @jflanagankc or email him at jeffreyflanagan6@gmail.com.