DETROIT — Since joining the Kansas City Royals in 2007, Alex Gordon has made a practice of coming to Comerica Park and robbing the Tigers of hits and runs.
Monday’s 7-6 victory might have been his best defensive effort yet in the Detroit outfield.
Gordon ran down James McCann’s fourth-inning line drive in the left-center field gap, taking away a potential RBI double, but that wasn’t his best play of the inning.
After Jeimer Candelario singled to put runners on the corners, Mikie Mahtook hit a fly ball that appeared destined for the Tigers bullpen. Gordon, though, got back to the wall, jumped and reached over the fence to take away a three-run homer.
“When he hit it, I didn’t think I had a chance, but I knew I needed to get back to the fence as fast as I could,” Gordon said. “At that point, it was just a matter of timing my jump and reaching as far as I could.”
Gordon wasn’t the only defensive star for Kansas City. Lorenzo Cain’s sliding catch took two RBIs away from Jose Iglesias in the sixth.
Those plays turned out to be crucial when the Tigers rallied with three runs in the ninth.
“Those plays were a huge part of this win,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “In a one-run game, they were the difference.”
Eric Hosmer, Salvador Perez and Alcides Escobar homered for the Royals.
Since trading Justin Verlander and Justin Upton on Thursday, the Tigers are 0-5 and have been outscored 36-11.
The Tigers trailed 7-3 going into the ninth, but Nicholas Castellanos hit a three-run homer off Brandon Maurer with one out. Maurer struck out Efren Navarro before McCann and Candelario singled to put the potential winning run on base.
Scott Alexander replaced Maurer and retired Mahtook for his third save in five chances.
“I knew they didn’t want to use me, because I’ve pitched in a lot of games lately, but I felt great,” Alexander said. “I just wanted to attack the bottom of the zone.”
Jake Junis (7-2) improved to 5-0 in his last seven starts, giving up three runs on seven hits in five innings. He struck out three without walking a batter.
Artie Lewicki (0-1) pitched five innings in his major league debut, allowing five runs on 11 hits and a walk. He struck out one.
“Anything four inches above the knee is too high here, and that’s where I lived most of the day,” he said. “I paid for it.”
The Royals took a 1-0 lead in the first and then scored four in the third. Whit Merrifield and Cain started the inning with singles, and both scored on Melky Cabrera’s double. Eric Hosmer followed with his 23rd homer to make it 5-0.
The Tigers had a chance to get on the board in their half of the third, but Andrew Romine was thrown out at the plate while trying to score from second on an infield single.
Gordon’s catch in the fourth was within a couple feet of the spot where Mahtook spiked Jose Ramirez’s ball over the wall on Sunday.
“In that same inning, he gets the ball off McCann’s bat, then you add in robbing the home run,” Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. “I guess you could say he hurt us a little with his defense.”
The Tigers came back with three runs in the fifth. Romine and Jose Iglesias led off with back-to-back doubles, making it 5-1, and Alex Presley’s triple scored Iglesias. Castellanos hit a sacrifice fly.
Kansas City’s defense struck again in the sixth, with Cain grabbing Iglesias’ sinking liner off the grass with runners on second and third.
“Our defense prides itself on stealing as many runs as we score,” Gordon said. “Plays like that can really deflate an offense.”
Perez hit his 22nd homer off Daniel Stumpf in the seventh, making it 6-3, and Alcides Escobar hit his fourth off Drew VerHagen in the eighth.
Royals: RHP Kelvim Herrera (forearm strain) was not available for Monday’s game, but could pitch later in the three-game series.
Tigers: RHP Jordan Zimmermann (neck strain) became the latest Tigers starter to go down with an injury. He will consult a specialist about the injury, which has been a problem since last season, and could be out for the year. In the last month, four members of Detroit’s rotation — Zimmermann, Michael Fulmer, Daniel Norris and Anibal Sanchez — have sustained injuries. The fifth, Justin Verlander, was traded.
“We hope for the best,” Ausmus said of Detroit’s makeshift rotation. “If they struggle, we have a lot of arms in the bullpen.”
Since 1913, only one Tigers starting pitcher has allowed more hits in his major-league debut than Lewicki’s 11. On April 19, 1921, Carl Holling gave up 13 hits (and 12 runs) in his debut against the Cleveland Indians. Holling’s career ended the next year after 40 games, including 12 starts.
Sanchez (3-3, 6.95) will return to Detroit’s rotation for the first time since straining a hamstring on Aug. 16 in Texas. He faces Jason Vargas (14-9, 3.87). Although Vargas is having the better season, he is 3-5 with a 6.03 ERA in 11 career starts against Detroit, while Sanchez is 6-5 with a 2.94 ERA in 16 appearances against the Royals.