Kansas City, Mo. The Royals proved Wednesday night just how fickle baseball can be.
One night after roughing up Tigers ace Justin Verlander to win a stunning shootout, Kansas City saw crafty veteran Bruce Chen go eight innings in an equally surprising pitcher’s duel with Anibal Sanchez. Eric Hosmer’s shank single in the fourth score the lone run in a 1-0 victory.
“That’s baseball. That’s why this game is so great,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “We won the game on an 80-foot bomb in the Bermuda triangle. That’s baseball.”
Indeed, Hosmer managed to get just enough of Sanchez’s pitch to drop the ball between the mound and second base, and that was enough to score Mike Moustakas from third base.
Try that for fickle.
“Isn’t it amazing?” Hosmer asked. “You can go up there and hit three lasers at guys, and then have a hit like that and it ends up deciding the game.”
Greg Holland earned his ninth save with a shaky ninth inning, allowing a leadoff single to Andy Dirks. Jarrod Dyson likely saved the tying run with a diving grab in center, and after Prince Fielder singled, Holland struck out Delmon Young and Jhonny Peralta to end the game.
The star of the game, though, unmistakably was Chen (10-10), who lasted eight innings for the first time since his last two starts of last season. The 35-year-old left-hander hadn’t even gone seven in his past 11 outings, though he had been pitching better of late.
Sanchez (2-4) matched him most of the night, finally looking like the guy the Tigers thought they were acquiring in a July trade with Florida. He allowed seven hits in seven innings.
“Chen pitched a great game. A great matchup — Chen and Sanchez — and Chen was just a little better,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “Chen throws this when you’re looking for that, and vice-versa. He knows what he’s doing, obviously.”
The Tigers came to town hoping to make up ground on the AL Central-leading White Sox, but the third-place Royals have gotten the most of them so far.
Kansas City battered Verlander, the reigning AL MVP and Cy Young Award winner, in the opener Tuesday night, scoring eight earned runs in 5 2-3 innings. Moustakas then delivered the go-ahead RBI double in the eighth to give the Royals a 9-8 victory.
They did it with pitching and defense Wednesday night, getting Chen’s best start of the year and turning a pair of inning-ending double plays to help him out.
“I felt really good. I felt like my teammates played really good defense,” Chen said. “After the third inning, I didn’t have to shake off anything. Everything was working.”
Everything was working for Sanchez until the fourth.
Moustakas doubled down the right-field line with one out and Hosmer came to the plate with two outs. He managed to catch a pitch so close to the hands that it popped over Sanchez’s head like a knuckleball, and dropped with a thud between the mound and second base.
Sanchez tried to grab it while whirling toward first, but he just about whiffed on the pick-up and Hosmer had an RBI single. Brayan Pena grounded out to leave the score 1-0.
“It’s part of the game, a blooper like that,” Sanchez said. “I have to take it. You have to go back to the mound and get the next guy out.”
Meanwhile, Chen was getting just about everybody out.
After giving up a leadoff double to Austin Jackson, the left-hander pitched 1-2-3 innings in the second and fourth, and got help from Moustakas in starting inning-ending double plays to get Kansas City out of the third and fifth.
The most perilous situation came in the seventh, when Miguel Cabrera scorched a pitch to center for a leadoff double. Cabrera advanced to third on Fielder’s flyout, and Chen hit Young with a pitch to put runners on the corners with one out.
Relying on his deep repertoire of off-speed stuff, Chen struck out Peralta and then watched Moustakas charge a grounder to third by Jeff Baker and throw him out to end the threat.
Chen retired the side in the eighth before Holland slammed the door in the ninth.
“Outstanding,” Yost said. “Chen was surgical with his stuff today. He was sharp, he was extremely effective. And then Holland was there to finish it off.”
NOTES: The Royals extended player development contracts with Idaho Falls and Burlington through the 2014 season. Burlington has already clinched the East Division of the Appalachian League. ... Tigers manager Jim Leyland and Royals manager Ned Yost both praised the umpiring crew for taking a second look at a foul ball hit by Young in the ninth inning Tuesday night. The ball just skirted the foul pole and was ruled foul, a decision upheld after the video review.