DETROIT (AP) — It’s been over a decade since the Kansas City Royals were in first place this late in the season, and try as he might, manager Ned Yost couldn’t totally downplay the achievement.
He just wants it kept in perspective.
“It’s nice. We’ve got a lot of games to play. We don’t get all geeked up,” Yost said. “It’s better than the alternative, trust me.”
Alex Gordon and Mike Moustakas homered as part of a seven-run second inning, and the Royals displaced the Detroit Tigers atop the AL Central on Tuesday night with an 11-4 victory, their ninth in a row.
Kansas City is in first place this late in the season for the first time since 2003, according to STATS. The Royals were leading the division in late August that year, only to finish third at 83-79. They have not made the postseason since winning the World Series in 1985.
“A lot of games left, so it really doesn’t matter, but to say you’re in first place, it feels pretty good,” designated hitter Billy Butler said. “Being in first place any time is good — even if it’s after the first game.”
Gordon and Moustakas hit two-run shots off Max Scherzer, and Kansas City has won the first two games of this four-game series emphatically. The Royals, who trailed the Tigers by seven games after a May 20 loss, now lead Detroit by a half-game.
Scherzer (8-3) yielded a career high-tying 10 runs in four-plus innings. The reigning American League Cy Young Award winner allowed the first eight batters of the second inning to reach base, with Kansas City scoring six runs before making an out.
“I’m just not putting guys away with two strikes. That’s my problem,” Scherzer said. “I’ve taken punches on the chin before, and I’ve come back. I’m not worried about that. I just have to get back to where I’m putting guys away.”
Scherzer did strike out five in the game.
Yordano Ventura (5-5) allowed three runs and eight hits in seven innings.
Ian Kinsler hit a solo homer for Detroit.
After winning 86 games in 2013, Kansas City is hoping to unseat the Tigers, who have won the last three division titles. Detroit looked headed for a fourth straight year at the top after a 27-12 start, but now the Tigers are facing a surprising number of questions about their starting rotation, which was expected to be among the best in baseball.
Justin Verlander has slumped badly over the last month — he took the loss in Kansas City’s 11-8 victory in the series opener Monday. Scherzer threw his first career shutout last week, but the Royals tagged him for 10 hits in his next start Tuesday.
Gordon opened the scoring with his two-run drive to right field, and Moustakas’ homer made it 4-0. Omar Infante added a two-run single before Eric Hosmer finally made the first out of the second inning on a tapper to the pitcher. Some fans cheered sarcastically, even though another run came home on the play to make it 7-0.
Verlander and Scherzer combined to allow 17 runs in the first two games of this series. That’s the most ever by two teammates with Cy Young Awards in back-to-back team games, according to STATS.
Ventura allowed two runs in the second, but that was the first of three consecutive innings in which Detroit hit into a double play. With the Royals ahead 10-2 in the fifth, Ventura walked Miguel Cabrera with the bases loaded, but the hard-throwing rookie caught a break when a pitch to Victor Martinez sailed past catcher Salvador Perez.
The ball bounced hard off the backstop, right back to Perez, and Detroit’s Eugenio Suarez was caught between third base and home. Perez threw to third to catch Suarez retreating and end the inning.
NOTES: Detroit is out of first place for the first time since taking over the division lead July 3 last year, according to STATS. ... The Tigers agreed to terms with OF Derek Hill, the team’s first-round draft pick. ... Perez extended his hitting streak to 11 games. ... Royals INF Danny Valencia (left hand) was assigned to Triple-A Omaha for a rehab assignment. ... Detroit OF Torii Hunter, who left Monday’s game with a hamstring cramp, did not play. ... Detroit LHP Drew Smyly (3-5) faces Kansas City RHP Jeremy Guthrie (3-6) on Wednesday.