It's kind of amazing to think about, but Danny Duffy began the year in the bullpen. Now, as we enter the back half of August, he's quite arguably the best starting pitcher in the American League.
Duffy came through with another stellar outing for the surging Royals, who are now within one game of .500 for the first time since July 24. The offense didn't hit Justin Verlander particularly hard, but they made their hits count, socking three solo home runs before adding on insurance late. The end result was a 6-1 victory that has Kansas City right back on the doorstep of .500.
This game was expected to be an old-fashioned pitcher's duel, and it was exactly that for awhile. Verlander retired the first eight Royals, while Duffy sat down 14 of the first 15 Tigers. In the top of the third inning, it was none other than Raul Mondesi Jr. that drew first blood. The 21-year-old rookie lined the first home run of his career into the right-field bleachers, breaking a scoreless tie and giving the Royals their first hit of the game.
Mondesi became the youngest Royal to homer in a game since Clint Hurdle in August 1978. Coincidentally, he was the exact same age to the day (21 years, 20 days) that Mondesi was when he hit his first career home run.
In the top of the fifth, with the Royals still siting on one hit, Alex Gordon mashed a 3-1 hanger deep into the right-field seats for his ninth home run of the year. The blast doubled Kansas City's lead to 2-0; Gordon has suddenly hit in seven straight games.
Detroit got a run back in the home half of the fifth when Jarrod Saltalamacchia hit a long solo shot to center, breaking up Duffy's shutout bid and making the score 2-1.
By the top of the seventh, Verlander had re-gained his mojo, and he was working through the lineup with ease. Eric Hosmer broke that trend when he hit the Royals third home run of the night, this one a high, towering blast to straight center field. It was Hosmer's 16th homer of the season. 3-1, Kansas City.
In the top of the eighth, Kansas City broke the game open against a tiring Verlander. Gordon reached second on an error by Saltalamacchia, who was playing first base because of the injury Miguel Cabrera suffered yesterday. Alcides Escobar lined a single, and Mondesi walked to load the bases with none out, knocking Verlander out of the game. The Royals added two insurance runs off the Detroit bullpen on a fielder's choice by Cheslor Cuthbert and an RBI double by Lorenzo Cain. 5-1, Royals.
With the extra-cushioned lead, Duffy returned to the game for the eighth, and he got two outs before being pulled prior to the lineup turning over for the fourth time. He was a fly-ball machine all evening, inducing lazy flyout after lazy flout to pitch deep into yet another start. His final line: 7.2 innings, three hits, one run, two walks, and five strikeouts. He has now gone at least 6.0 innings in 10 straight starts. The last time he failed to get through at least six innings was June 22.
Oh yeah, and he won his fourth straight start. Duffy is 10-1, you guys. Ten and one.
Duffy's ERA lowered to 2.73, which is the lowest of all American League starters who have thrown more than 120 innings. He just continues to get better, stronger, and more confident with each start.
Joakim Soria struck out Ian Kinsler to end the eighth, and Kendrys Morales hit the Royals fourth homer of the night by leading off the top of the ninth with his 20th blast of the season. Say what you want about the problems Kansas City has hitting home runs, but this is the earliest in a year that a Royals player has reached the 20-homer mark since 2012; Billy Butler hit his 20th of that season on July 25.
Peter Moylan handled the bottom of the ninth to secure the win. The Royals are 8-4 against Detroit in 2016.
Verlander's numbers look worse than he actually was, as his bullpen allowed two inherited runs to score. However, the three home runs were all on him. He pitched seven-plus innings, throwing 112 pitches in the process. He allowed four hits, five runs (three of which were earned), and he struck out six batters. However, the three home runs surrendered are his highest total since June 26.
The Royals are 59-60. They've suddenly won six out of their last seven games. They've won four straight series. They've won 10 straight games that Danny Duffy has started.
Tomorrow: Kansas City goes for its first three-game sweep since that Cleveland series in the middle of June. Yordano Ventura will oppose the corpse of Anibal Sanchez, who has a 6.31 ERA in 112 innings this year. Seems doable.
Don't look now...but this isn't over just yet. The Royals may not be quite done with their late-season magic.