DETROIT — Prince Fielder homered and drove in three runs, and Justin Verlander pitched effectively into the seventh inning to lift the Detroit Tigers to a 6-3 victory over the Kansas City Royals on Friday night.
Detroit remained six games ahead of second-place Cleveland in the AL Central and dealt the third-place Royals a setback in the postseason race. Kansas City is one of several teams hoping at least to catch Tampa Bay for a wild card.
Verlander (13-11) allowed three runs and nine hits in 6 2/3 innings. Three relievers finished. Joaquin Benoit worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the eighth and got the final four outs for his 19th save in 19 chances.
Bruce Chen (7-3) allowed five earned runs and seven hits in 4 1/3 innings.
The Royals, who are trying to make the playoffs for the first time since winning the World Series in 1985, entered the day 2 1/2 games behind the Rays, but this series against the leaders in Kansas City’s division did not start well.
Kansas City fell behind 6-1 in the fifth, and although the Royals rallied, Detroit’s bullpen was able to hold on. After Drew Smyly issued a one-out walk to Eric Hosmer in the eighth, Jose Veras came on and walked Billy Butler on four pitches. After taking ball one, Salvador Perez popped out to first, but Veras hit Mike Moustakas to load the bases.
On came Benoit, who has been excellent since becoming Detroit’s full-time closer. He struck out David Lough to end the threat.
Kansas City left fielder Alex Gordon overran Austin Jackson’s leadoff double in the Detroit first for an error, allowing Jackson to advance to third. He scored on Torii Hunter’s groundout to give the Tigers a 1-0 lead.
Kansas City tied it in the fourth on an RBI single by Perez, but Fielder’s flyball in the bottom of the inning barely cleared the wall in the right-field corner for a two-run shot. It was his 24th homer of the year.
The tiebreaking home run came after banged-up slugger Miguel Cabrera led off with a double to right-center that Lough just missed making a sliding catch on. It was Cabrera’s first extra-base hit since Aug. 26.
Detroit added three runs in the fifth. Hunter hit a two-run single, and after an intentional walk to Cabrera, Hunter caught the Royals napping and broke for third. Chen was called for a balk, giving Hunter third and Cabrera second, and Fielder’s RBI single made it 6-1.
Verlander has pitched well in 2013, just not up to the terrific standard he set the previous two years. The Tigers are hoping the right-hander will find a groove late this season, and he was breezing along until the Royals rallied with a couple runs in the sixth. Butler’s RBI single made it 6-2, and Perez drove in Butler with a double.
Detroit did a decent job slowing down Kansas City’s vaunted running game. Catcher Alex Avila threw out Emilio Bonifacio trying to steal second in the fourth, and Verlander picked Jarrod Dyson off first the following inning.