It's no secret that the Tigers dominated the Royals all throughout last season, especially at Kauffman Stadium. Kansas City was an abysmal 2-8 against Detroit in home games, and the first home series in May really set the table for what was to come. The Royals were 14-12 in April last year, and the Tigers came to town for a three-game set for early season control of the AL Central. The result was hideous, as Detroit blew through the hapless Royals by outscoring them 26-8 in a sweep. None of the three games were close.
If the goal is to win the AL Central this year, things must be different against the Tigers. The Royals got the start they needed by blowing out Detroit 8-1 in Friday's opener, but headed into Saturday with a spot-start against one of the best offenses in baseball. They responded by flirting with a combined no hitter, but they also made sure to squeeze in some intense moments in the late innings before ultimately holding off the Tigers to win, 4-1.
After banging out 14 hits and plating eight runs in Friday's series opener, the Royals wasted little time scoring Saturday. With two outs, Lorenzo Cain singled to left, and Eric Hosmer followed that up with a bunted single to beat the shift. It came one night after Mike Moustakas did the same thing on the Tigers' dramatic right-side shift, and it was probably the easiest hit of Hosmer's career. From there, it was a Kendrys Morales two-run double down the right field line that opened the scoring, and Salvador Perez with a lined single to plate Morales.
Two innings later, Kansas City's offense came alive again, and like the first frame, the run-scoring hit came from Morales. Following a double by Hosmer, Morales singled the Royals' first baseman home with a bouncing ball up the middle, raising his team-leading RBI count to 20. As a comparison, he drove in just 24 runs in 59 games played with Seattle; Friday marked Morales' 22nd game with Kansas City.
Aside from the jam in the fourth inning, the game was completely mellow all the way until the top of the eighth. The Royals' offense came to a standstill, manufacturing just three hits after the third inning. The Tigers, meanwhile, had yet to produce a single base hit through the game's first seven frames. The high-powered offense was completely shut down by the duo of Chris Young and Ryan Madson, striking out 10 times while being no-hit through the first 21 outs.
Young (2-0), making a spot start for the suspended Edinson Volquez, was literally unhittable on Friday night. Making his first start as a Royal, Young held the Tigers hitless over his five innings of work. He struck out a whopping nine batters, more than he racked up in any of his 30 starts last season as a Seattle Mariner. The last time Young struck out nine hitters was way back on August 21, 2012; he may have been the AL's comeback player of the year a season ago, but the 35-year-old was the best he's been in years on Friday night.
The aforementioned fourth-inning jam was the only trouble Young got into, but it was more than enough to make Royals fans nervous. Despite a 4-0 lead, Young walked three consecutive hitters after retiring the first 10 Tigers to load the bases with just one out. Facing the teeth of Detroit's order, Young managed to strike out J.D. Martinez and Yoenis Cespedes to end the threat.
Facing Young is never an easy task. His fastest pitch was just 88 mph. It's reminiscent of watching Bruce Chen do his thing; the ability to mix and match a variety of off-speed pitches is more than enough to madden the opposing hitters. Miguel Cabrera was seen with a perplexed look on his face after fouling off multiple foul balls during an at bat. Hitter after hitter would take a mighty rip, only to lift a lazy fly ball into the outfield that would softly come down into the glove of a defender. Young clearly frustrated Detroit's struggling offense all evening, and his final line is near flawless: five innings, zero hits, three walks, and nine strikeouts.
Madson entered the game in the sixth and picked up right where Young left off, firing two perfect innings to keep the combined no-hitter intact. When Kelvin Herrera entered the game in the eighth inning, the game appeared to be virtually over, and the only real question was if the Royals could complete the team no-no.
That's when things got dicey.
Herrera walked Alex Avila to open the inning. He then gave up back-to-back singles by Nick Castellanos and Jose Iglesias, spoiling the Royals' bid for their first-ever combined no-hitter. Instantly, the game had gone from potentially historic to dangerously troublesome, as the Tigers had loaded the bases with zero outs. Herrera's control was everywhere, and the Royals were lucky to get the first out of the inning on a slow chopper by Anthony Gose that plated the Tigers' first run.
With Kansas City leading 4-1, Miguel Cabrera stepped to the plate, representing the tying run. An epic battle ensued with Herrera; Cabrera fouled off fastball after fastball before finally swinging through a 99 mph offering to a Kauffman Stadium roar. Cabrera could do nothing but smile and nod his head at Herrera. A sellout crowd of more than 38,000 was even further delighted when Victor Martinez flew out to deep left field to end the threat, and Herrera walked off the mound knowing that he had narrowly avoided trouble. He needed 30 pitches to get through the frame. It didn't matter.
Wade Davis held down the Tigers to earn his fifth save in as many chances. He surrendered his first extra-base hit of the season but still managed to escape without damage to his spotless ERA of 0.00. For the Tigers, Kyle Lobstein (2-2) kept the game close in his first career start against the Royals, yielding 10 hits and four runs over 7.1 innings of work. He struck out just two and walked one. Joba Chamberlain pitched the other 2/3 of the eighth inning.
After defeating the Tigers at home just twice in 10 opportunities last year, the Royals are a perfect two-for-two so far this time. The win ensures that the Royals will not lose this series with the Tigers, something that happened only once out of six sets with Detroit last year. Finally, the 16-7 Royals climbed to a season-best nine games over .500, and expanded their lead to a season-best 1.5 games over the Tigers.
It's early, and we all know about how the past two Mays have gone, but no team in baseball has more wins than the Royals. It's encouraging to see them play well against Detroit. Now excuse me, because I'm going to go watch the final pitch of that Herrera-Cabrera clash over and over again.
Credit to @jbbrisco for the headline because I'm lousy at coming up with my own.