Detroit Every 94 years, a Tigers rookie has a game like Drew Smyly.
On May 24, 1918, Swedish-born Eric Erickson struck out 12 without walking a batter in a 16-inning complete game.
Until Friday night, no other Tigers rookie had been able to hit double-digit strikeouts in a game without walking a batter. Not only did Drew Smyly do that against Kansas City in a 4-2 win, he needed 10 fewer innings than Erickson.
“Tonight was exceptional, because he’s not an overpowering pitcher,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “But he’s got a good feel for pitching, and I like him a lot. I think he has a chance to be an outstanding pitcher in two or three years, and some people don’t think it will take that long.”
Smyly, making his 15th career start, struck out a career-high 10 while allowing two runs on six hits.
He improved to 4-3 and helped get the Tigers (42-42) back to .500 for the first time since May 15. They had failed the last eight times when needing one win to reach the mark.
“It means we’ve been winning,” said Delmon Young, who hit a tie-breaking homer in the sixth. “Drew kept us in the ballgame so we didn’t have to panic and try to score runs early. Most 22-year-olds are in A-ball or Double-A, and he’s in the big leagues, carrying himself like a veteran.”
Four Detroit relievers finished, with Jose Valverde pitching the ninth for his 16th save in 19 tries.
Jonathan Sanchez (1-5) saw his winless streak extend to 10 starts, allowing four runs in 5 2/3 innings. He has not won since beating the Los Angeles Angels on April 8.
“He was definitely better,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “His strike ratio was better and his command was better. He just made two mistakes — one was a two-run triple and one was a two-run homer.”
Sanchez acknowledged that he made progress, but was far from content.
“The results are still not good enough,” he said. “Today was better, yes, but I have to do more in the second half of the season. I just have to do better.”
The Tigers broke the scoreless tie in the third, when Ramon Santiago and Austin Jackson singled before coming home on Quintin Berry’s fourth triple.
Smyly only allowed one hit and struck out nine in the first four innings, but the Royals tied the game in the fifth.
“You just can’t see much here in the first four innings,” Yost said. “That’s not an excuse — we have a pitcher out there who can take advantage of it as well, but it is really tough for hitters.”
With one out, Mike Moustakas bounced a ground-rule double over the 420-foot sign in center field, and Smyly appeared in pain after the pitch. He was checked by trainer Kevin Rand, but stayed in the game.
“On that pitch, I just tweaked my side,” he said. “I just needed to stretch it out a bit.”
The next batter lined out, but Brayan Pena made it 2-1 with a double and Jason Bourgeois tied the game with a run-scoring single. The Royals put runners on second and third in the sixth, but Smyly got Moustakas to end the inning.
In the bottom of the inning, Young hit a 3-1 pitch deep over the bullpens in left for his eighth homer — his second in two days — and a 4-2 Detroit lead.
Note: Sanchez walked three batters, giving him 15 in his last three starts. ... The Tigers are 67-47 against Kansas City since Jim Leyland took over in 2006.