If it's possible to make a statement to start the biggest series of the season, the first-place Detroit Tigers made the biggest statement possible against the second-place Kansas City Royals. Detroit waltzed to a 10-1 victory, taking first blood in their three-game series in Kansas City. The Tigers came out swinging, landing several haymakers in the early innings, going on to stagger the Royals, who finally threw in the towel by emptying their bench in the sixth.
Nine games remaining in the regular season, the victory increases the Tigers' lead over the Royals in the AL Central to 1 1/2 games, while cutting the magic number to nine. The wild card race has become extremely tight, a three-team race for two spots. The Athletics and Royals are tied for the top wild card, while the Mariners lurk one game back.
Under the bright lights in a nationally televised game, the Tigers received a vintage performance from starting pitcher Justin Verlander. Bringing back not-too-distant memories of 'Must See JV,' a visibly fired-up Verlander pounded the strike zone, not allowing a run until the eighth inning. Verlander shut down the Royals on seven hits over 7 1/3 innings, striking out four, walking just one. In relief, Evan Reed and Blaine Hardy put a tidy bow on the victory, not allowing a hit over the final 1 2/3 innings.
The Royals needed Jason Vargas to step up, only to see their starter knocked out of the game in the fourth inning. The Tigers beat up Vargas to the tune of five runs and four hits, having thrown 66 pitches in just 3 1/3 innings.
The Royals' bullpen didn't fare much better. Casey Coleman was battered and bruised for four runs and four hits in just 2/3 of an inning. Louis Coleman allowed a run and two hits in his inning of work. By the time manager Ned Yost found three relievers who could shut down the Tigers, holding Detroit scoreless over the final four innings, it was far too little, much too late.
Slumbering in the final two games of their series against the Minnesota Twins, the Tigers' booming bats forced Royals fans to put away their thundersticks. The Tigers outhit the Royals 19-7, every starter getting at least one base hit.
Detroit received production up and down the order, starting with Ian Kinsler out of the lead-off spot. Kinsler exploded for three hits, including his 15th home run, with three RBI and two runs scored. Torii Hunter, Victor Martinez, J.D. Martinez, Nick Castellanos, Eugenio Suarez and James McCann all joined Kinsler with multi-hit nights.
The Royals threatened twice against Verlander, stranding runners in scoring position in the second and seventh innings. By the time Jayson Nix drove in the only Kansas City run in the eighth, both teams had emptied their benches, the game long having been decided.
When it was all said and done, disappointment was the word of the night in Kansas City.
Jason Vargas: "It's disappointed for the fans. They should be disappointed."— Andy McCullough (@McCulloughStar) September 20, 2014
Justin Verlander: It was the perfect time for efficient Verlander to arrive, pitching deep into the game, not crossing the 100 pitch mark until the eighth inning. His fastball topping out at 94-95 MPH, Verlander struck out only four, but was in command all evening, walking only one batter. Angry Verlander also made an appearance. As expected, he was unhappy about being pulled in the eighth.
Question: You seemed irritated when you came out of the game. Any insight you can lend us? Verlander: "Nah, mumble, mumble, whatever."— Chris Iott (@Chris_Iott) September 20, 2014
Verlander versus Country Breakfast: In the battle versus his long-time nemesis, Verlander was victorious against Billy Butler. Country Breakfast was 0-for-2, also making the biggest out of the game. Down four runs in the bottom of the second, one out, a pair of runners in scoring position and given the green light on 3-0, Butler flew out to short right. Verlander would get out of the inning unscathed, and would cruise to a win.
Ian Kinsler: Huge night for the struggling second baseman. The Tigers scored in four innings, Kinsler's bat playing a part with a base hit in three of them, including a two-run home run.
The top of the order: Kinsler and Torii Hunter kick-started the offense with a 5-for-10, four RBI, two runs scored performance.
The middle of the order: Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and J.D. Martinez combined for a 6-for-11, two RBI, three run scored night.
The bottom of the order: Nick Castellanos, Eugenio Suarez, James McCann and Rajai Davis were a combined 7-for-20, driving in three runs while scoring four.
Eugenio Suarez: The odd out man out at shortstop the past few weeks, Suarez has been sitting most games as Andrew Romine has received most of the playing time. Making his first start since September, the slumping Suarez bounced back with a pair of RBI singles while playing a solid game in the field.
James McCann: Detroit's rookie receiver got a rare start in the middle of a pennant race, coning through in a big way. McCann had the first two hits his career, stole a base, scored a run and helped Verlander to one of his best games of the season.
Ezequiel Carrera as a defensive replacement: Taking over left field in the eighth, Carrera allowed a runner to advance from second to third on a fly ball, caught napping by Giavotella. He would end up scoring the Royals' only run.
Alex Avila remains out of the lineup to to his concussion-like symptoms, missing his fourth consecutive game. Rookie James McCann received the start behind the plate, giving Bryan Holaday a break.
Top of one, Royals Gold Glove outfielder Alex Gordon misjudged Miguel Cabrera's line drive to left, resulting in a 1-0 lead for the Tigers. Ian Kinsler on second and one out, Cabrera lashed a shot to left. Gordon was caught off guard as the ball took off, sailing over his glove, allowing Kinsler to jog home with the game's first run. Victor Martinez followed by bouncing an RBI single to right, Cabrera beating the throw from Norichika Aoki, pushing the Tigers' lead to 2-0.
Royals' starter Jason Vargas was one strike away from getting out the first inning, but Eugenio Suarez yanked an RBI single to left, plating Martinez to put the Tigers up 3-0. The Tigers would ultimately send eight to plate in the first inning, scoring three runs on five hits.
Detroit jumped on Vargas for another run in the second, extending their lead to 4-0. Rajai Davis singled, scoring on Torii Hunter's double off the base of the wall in right center.
The Royals didn't hit a ball hard in the second, but still forced Justin Verlander to pitch of out of a jam. A Salvador Perez bloop single was followed by Eric Hosmer's chopper off the plate, which landed in right for a two-base hit. Two runners in scoring position and one-out, Verlander retired his arch-enemy, Billy Butler, and ex-Tiger Omar Infante, stranding the runners and maintaining the Tigers' four-run advantage.
The Tigers made it 5-0 in the fourth, knocking Vargas out of the game in the process. Rookie catcher James McCann manufactured a threat by singling to center, then stealing second. Kinsler doubled into the left field corner, McCann scoring easily. Royals manager Ned Yost was forced to yank his starter after just 3 1/3 innings, Vargas having allowed five runs on nine hits.
Replacing Vargas was Casey Coleman, who has a connection to the Tigers.
RE: Current Royals pitcher Casey Coleman, whose father was former Tiger Joe Coleman RT @spacemnkymafia: "I caught his father." - Jim Price— Bless You Boys (@blessyouboys) September 20, 2014
The Tigers strung together four straight hits in the fifth, V. Martinez single, J.D. Martinez double, Nick Castellanos RBI single, Suarez RBI single - extending their lead to 7-0.
Louis Coleman replaced Casey Coleman, and should have gotten a double play on a ground ball off the bat of James McCann. But Infante threw the ball way, Castellanos scoring to make it an 8-0 game.
After two were down, the extra out came back to haunt the Royals when Kinsler took Coleman deep, sneaking a high fly ball inside the left field foul pole. The two-run shot was Kinsler's 15th of the season, the Tigers increasing their lead to double digits at 10-0 (MLB.com video).
Yost waved the white flag after the Royals went down in order in the fifth, making mass lineup changes for the top of the sixth. Aoki shifted to left field, Carlos Peguero entered the game in right field, Alex Gordon taking a seat. Jarrod Dyson took over in center field for Lorenzo Cain. Erik Kratz replaced Salvador Perez behind the plate. Finally, Infante exited, Johnny Giavotella playing second base.
By the eighth inning, the only Kansas City starters remaining in the lineup were Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer.
Brad Asumus called off the dogs in the eighth, pulling his 3-4-5 middle of the order sluggers. Don Kelly, Steven Moya and Ezequiel Carrera all entered the game as pinch-hitters. Tyler Collins and Andrew Romine entered the game defensively in the bottom half of the frame.
The Royals scored a meaningless run in the bottom of eighth, Giavotella scoring on Jayson Nix's sacrifice fly.
STREAKS AND STATS:
Miguel Cabrera's first-inning double was his 1,336th hit with the Tigers, tying him with Bobby Higginson for the 16th most in club history.
Victor Martinez's single in the first inning drove in Cabrera, giving him 100 RBI of the season. It's his fifth season with 100-or-more RBI and first since 2011.
At age 35, Martinez is the fourth-oldest player in MLB history to have his first 30-HR/100-RBI season. Carton Fisk (1985) and Edgar Martinez (2000) were both 37 when they had their first 30-100 season. Cy Williams pulled it off in 1923 at the same age of 35, but was 20 days older than Martinez.
Entering tonight's game, Jason Vargas had allowed just four first-inning runs all season. The Tigers nearly equaled that total, plating three runs in the opening frame tonight.
James McCann singled to lead off the fourth, the first hit of his big league career (MLB.com video). McCann would follow that up with the first stolen base of his career, swiping second. He would cap off a trip around the bases by scoring his first career run.
Eight of nine Tigers had at least one hit off Vargas in his 3 1/3 innings of work. The only player to not have a hit off the Royals' starter was Nick Castellanos.
Castellanos would get of the schneid thanks to an RBI single in the fifth, giving all nine Detroit starters at least one base hit.
Torii Hunter has five straight multi-hit games, tying his career-long streak. He also had five straight multi-hit games from July 10-14, 2013.
With three hits in tonight's game, J.D. Martinez is hitting .458 (22-for-48) against the Royals this season.
The Tigers continued their dominance against the Royals, raising their record in the season series to 12-5.
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