KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Detroit Tigers manager Brad Ausmus was feeling ill even before Friday night’s game against Kansas City, so he told bench coach Gene Lamont in the second inning that he was heading upstairs.
He missed having a front-row seat to watch his pitching staff’s magic act.
Just like Houdini making his greatest escapes, Anibal Sanchez and the Tigers bullpen wiggled out of jams in every inning. Ian Kinsler and Miguel Cabrera drove in a run apiece, and that was just enough to give the AL Central-leading Tigers a 2-1 victory over the second-place Royals.
“We really had to fight for this one,” Tigers catch Bryan Holaday said.
Sanchez (6-3) scattered eight hits without a walk over seven innings, Joba Chamberlain got out of a tense eighth, and Joe Nathan worked around a single and a walk in the ninth for his 19th save — and give Detroit its fifth straight win over the Royals at Kauffman Stadium this season.
Nathan got Nori Aoki to ground out on a full-count pitch to end the game.
“Obviously we have to play them a lot more,” Chamberlain said. “We just have to keep grinding.”
Salvador Perez drove in the only run for the Royals, who squandered a solid start by Danny Duffy (5-9). He gave up both runs, only one earned, while losing for the fourth time in five starts.
“Up against a guy like Sanchez,” he said, “you can’t make any mistakes.”
The Royals appeared to be 90 feet from tying it with no outs in the eighth, when Aoki swiped second base and went to third when the throw from Holaday squirted into center field.
While that was going on, though, plate umpire Chad Fairchild was calling batter interference on Lorenzo Cain for stepping into the way of the throw to second. Cain was out and Aoki was forced to make the long, slow trot back to first base. He wound up getting stranded by Chamberlain.
“That was a big play,” said Lamont, himself a former catcher. “Chad made the right call. I’m sure the Royals fans don’t think so, but he did make the right call.”
After the Tigers opened the series with a 16-4 blowout Thursday night, Sanchez and Duffy waged an entertaining pitchers’ duel. And just like when they met in June, Sanchez was one run better.
Duffy surrendered a leadoff double to Austin Jackson and an RBI single to Kinsler in the first inning, and then gave up another run in the third when Cabrera hit a lazy sacrifice fly.
Duffy wound up allowing five hits while striking out six without a walk. He departed after hitting the Tigers’ Nick Castellanos leading off the seventh inning, but Kelvin Herrera — who hit the first batter he faced — managed to wiggle out of the jam without any more damage.
Meanwhile, Sanchez was churning through the Royals lineup.
They scored their only run in the first inning when Eric Hosmer stretched a single into a double and Perez followed with a base hit. Sanchez struck out Billy Butler to end the inning, and then kept Kansas City at bay over the next six — though none of them was clean.
Sanchez worked around a single in the second, a double in the third, a leadoff single in the fourth, and singles in the fifth and sixth innings without another run.
His tensest moment came in the seventh, when Mike Moustakas doubled off the wall in center field, missing a tying homer by a couple of feet. The Royals advanced Moustakas to third with a groundout, but Sanchez induced two more groundouts — one a magnificent spinning stab by shortstop Eugenio Suarez — to quietly end the threat.
“Same thing we see every time. He was unreal,” Moustakas said. “He’s so good at commanding his pitches and mixing speeds with different pitches and different counts. He’s a tough at-bat any time. He commands both sides of the plate with all of his pitches, and he adds and subtracts his fastball. He does whatever he wants.”