Verlander Withstands Heat to Beat Royals
KANSAS CITY (AP) -- Justin Verlander became the first Tigers pitcher to earn his 12th win before the All-Star break in 24 years and Detroit climbed past Cleveland into first place in the AL Central on Sunday with a 2-1 victory over the Kansas City Royals.
Verlander (12-4) pitched 7 2/3 strong innings in the sweltering heat to match Jack Morris' win total in 1987. Striking out the side in the second and sixth, he fanned nine altogether and raised his league-leading strikeout total to 147. He allowed six hits and did not walk a batter while getting charged with one unearned run. He has not allowed more than two runs in nine straight starts.
The 28-year-old right-hander threw 119 pitches, 82 strikes, as temperatures got as high as 98 degrees. The heat index on the concourse of the stadium in the eighth inning was 113. Lifetime, Verlander improved to 12-2 in 18 starts against the Royals, who lost three of the four games against their AL Central rivals and went into the break with a league-worst 37-54 record.
The Tigers, winners of four of their last five, moved a half-game ahead of Cleveland, which lost to Toronto 7-1.
Jeff Francis (3-10) took the loss even though he had one of the his best outings of the season, going six-plus innings and surrendering two runs on just four hits, with one walk and six strikeouts, matching his season high.
Verlander lost the shutout in the eighth when Alcides Escobar singled, went to third on Chris Getz's single and scored with two outs when Brandon Inge threw high to first on Alex Gordon's slow roller to third. Joaquin Benoit relieved and struck out Billy Butler. All-Star closer Jose Valverde worked around a leadoff double by Eric Hosmer in the ninth for his 24th straight save. He saved all three of the victories against KC.
It was 95 degrees with a heat index of 105 when the game started and 97, 112 by the sixth inning.
Francis retired the first nine Tigers but Casper Wells doubled leading off the fourth and made it 1-0 on an RBI single by Brennan Boesch. In the sixth, Wells walked, went to second with his first career steal and came home on Magglio Ordonez's RBI single.
Verlander, as usual against KC, was dominant most of the hot, sticky afternoon.
After Butler singled leading off the second, struggling rookie Mike Moustakas broke an 0 for 21 streak with a two-out single into right. But Verlander ended the threat by striking out Brayan Pena. Jeff Francoeur singled to start the Royals fifth, went to second on a wild pitch and to third on Moustakas' roller to first. But Verlander kept him there by striking out Pena and retiring Escobar on an easy infield grounder.
Hosmer made a terrific defensive play to end the eighth, diving to his right to snare Don Kelly's hot grounder wide of the bag and, from his knees, whipping the ball to pitcher Aaron Crow on the bag, nipping the runner by half a step.