KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Despite being only two games above .500 and facing a 6.5-game deficit against first-place Detroit, the Kansas City Royals believe they have their rivals right where they want them.
Judging by recent history, maybe they do.
A five-run seventh inning keyed by Omar Infante’s two-run single and an RBI double from Eric Hosmer enabled the Royals to avoid a demoralizing four-game sweep against the Tigers on Sunday.
It also brought to mind the league-best 33-20 mark they logged last season after stumbling into the All-Star break on a five-game losing streak.
“We’re eight games better than we were at this time last year,” manager Ned Yost said. “And we’re a second-half team. We’ve always been a second-half team.”
Exactly why they seem to play better after the break, no one seems to know.
“I’m not sure,” designated hitter Billy Butler said. “The season’s long, It wears on guys as they get older. We’re young. And sometimes I think as guys get older … I don’t know.”
But he does know last year’s second-half surge makes this year’s challenge seem less daunting.
“We’re just better the second half. It’s our track record and we’re starting to count on it.”
Four of the seventh-inning runs were charged to Justin Verlander (8-8), who started the inning with a two-hit shutout but loaded the bases on three straight singles.
“Things were going well for us and we ran into the seventh,” said Verlander, who lost for just the fifth time in 15 decisions in Kauffman Stadium. “A couple of balls fell in the right spots and I’m out of the ballgame. They were able to find some spots.”
Since June 18 when K.C. beat the Tigers for their 10th straight win and went a season-best seven games over .500, the Royals have gone 9-14 while the Tigers went 17-6.
Verlander gave up six hits in 6 1/3 innings, struck out three and walked one.
Yordano Ventura (7-7) pitched 1 2/3 innings in his first career relief appearance and got the win.
He allowed one hit and struck out three for the Royals, who beat the Tigers for only the first time in seven tries this year at home.
Greg Holland pitched a perfect ninth for his 25th save in 26 opportunities.
After Raul Ibanez loaded the bases in the seventh with a single that snapped a 0-for-25 skid, Alcides Escobar brought in a run with a slow-rolling infield single that second baseman Ian Kinsler failed to pick up cleanly. A second run then scored on Jarrod Dyson’s fielder’s choice.
Ian Krol replaced Verlander and after intentionally walking pinch hitter Salvador Perez, gave up a two-run single to Omar Infante that made it 4-2.
“I waited for that pitch and made good contact,” Infante said.
Hosmer’s double stretched his career-best hitting streak to 13 games.
Rajai Davis and Austin Jackson opened the third with back-to-back singles and the Tigers took a 2-0 lead on Miguel Cabrera’s sacrifice fly and a two-out bloop single by J.D. Martinez, which fell in between shortstop Escobar and left fielder Ibanez as Jackson came around from first.
NOTES: Jackson proved a perfect leadoff hitter in this series, starting all four games with a base hit, three singles and a double. … Martinez made two nifty running catches in the right-field corner. Martinez was also 3 for 4. … These were the only home games for the Royals during a 19-game stretch that began on June 30 and runs through July 23. … The Royals, Dodgers, Yankees and Mariners are the only major league teams with losing records at home and winning marks on the road. … All nine of Detroit’s hits were singles.