The biggest mistake that Kansas City Royals starter Danny Duffy made Friday night wasn't a pitch to the plate. Rather, it was a throw he made to second base.
The Royals and Detroit Tigers were locked in a tie game with runners on first and second in the third inning. Worried about a potential double steal, Duffy wheeled around and tried to pick off the lead runner, and instead threw the ball into center field and allowed both runners to advance.
Miguel Cabrera followed one batter later with a sacrifice fly, and that wound up being the deciding run in AL Central-leading Detroit's 2-1 victory.
"I was hoping my decision to try to pick off didn't cost us the game, but it did," Duffy said. "I needed to focus on the hitter, but hindsight is 20-20."
Anibal Sanchez (6-3) scattered eight hits without a walk over seven innings for the Tigers, and Joba Chamberlain navigated a tense eighth before Joe Nathan worked around a single and a walk in the ninth to earn his 19th save – and give Detroit its fifth straight win at Kauffman Stadium.
Nathan got Nori Aoki to ground out with a full count 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 what was actually a solid start by Duffy (5-9). He gave up both runs, but the unearned one proved costly.
"Danny threw a great game," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "He pitched a great game."
Almost great enough to win.
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 catcher Bryan 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 where he was stranded.
"That was a big play," said Tigers bench coach Gene Lamont, who took over when manager Brad Ausmus left with an illness in the second inning. "Chad made the right call. I'm sure the Royals fans don't think so, but he did make the right call."
Duffy surrendered a leadoff double to Austin Jackson and an RBI single to Kinsler in the first inning, and then gave up that fateful run on Cabrera's lazy sacrifice fly.
The left-hander was lifted 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.
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."
Notes: Tigers DH Victor Martinez (strained left side) missed his fifth straight game. Kinsler replaced him on the AL All-Star roster Friday. ... The Royals activated Aoki (strained left groin) from the DL and optioned INF Christian Colon to Triple-A Omaha before the game. ... Tigers RHP Rick Porcello faces Royals RHP James Shields on Saturday.