By NOAH TRISTER
AP Baseball Writer
DETROIT (AP) With his team in need of a victory and an anxious crowd waiting, Joe Nathan took the mound and struck out the last three hitters of the game.
Any win would have meant a lot to the Detroit Tigers, but Nathan’s performance made this one a little more encouraging.
“It was still a matter of just coming to work and trying to get better, trying to figure out what’s going on,” Nathan said. “We’ve been grinding.”
Nathan breezed through the ninth inning, and the Tigers ended Kansas City’s 10-game winning streak with a 2-1 victory over the Royals on Thursday. J.D. Martinez hit a tiebreaking homer in the fourth for the Tigers, who avoided a four-game sweep and pulled within a half-game of the AL Central-leading Royals.
Anibal Sanchez (4-2) allowed five hits and a walk in seven innings, keeping the Kansas City offense quiet even though he failed to strike out a batter. Joba Chamberlain pitched the eighth, and Nathan finished for his 14th save in 18 chances.
Nathan’s ERA is still an unsightly 6.31, but he’s been working with his pitching coach and catchers, and hopes some mechanical tweaking will help. He struck out Billy Butler to start the ninth – the Kansas City designated hitter argued the called third strike – and Salvador Perez then went down swinging. With the crowd on its feet, Nathan fanned Lorenzo Cain to end it.
“That looked like the Joe Nathan I’ve faced for years,” Butler said. “All those times with the Twins and then with Texas – the one with a few hundred saves and all those All-Star games. He’s had some tough moments in his career, but that looked like the same guy today.”
Detroit’s victory came a day after manager Brad Ausmus sarcastically told reporters that he beats his wife when his team isn’t playing well. Ausmus realized immediately his words were in poor taste and apologized, and he apologized again before and after Thursday’s game, saying Wednesday was his worst day since taking over the job before this season.
“I still feel awful about it,” Ausmus said. “There was nothing in my head that I wanted to hurt or offend anyone, and if I did, I still apologize. It was in poor judgment, and it won’t happen again.”
Butler gave the Royals a 1-0 lead with an RBI double in the first, but Miguel Cabrera drove in a run with a double of his own in the fourth. Cabrera was tagged out on a bizarre double play when right fielder Nori Aoki caught Victor Martinez’s flyball and threw back to the infield, where Cabrera was nonchalantly returning to second.
Shortstop Alcides Escobar caught the ball and made the tag. Cabrera was initially ruled safe, but the call was overturned on replay.
J.D. Martinez followed with a solo homer to right, his sixth of the year. He now has a nine-game hitting streak, with a .412 average in that span, and he hopes this win will end a stretch in which so much has gone badly for the Tigers. Detroit won for only the 10th time in its last 30 games.
“It’s funny, even talking to the umpires, they even chime in and say it. They’re like, `Dude, everything that’s going wrong just seems to be going wrong for you guys. You guys just got to grind through it,'” Martinez said. “You see the breaks that we’ve been getting. We hit the ball hard, it gets caught. We hit it soft, it gets caught. We get on base, the ball goes to the backstop, comes back, gets thrown out, we’re out of an inning. It’s just kind of like, craziness.”
Sanchez went without a strikeout for the first time in his career, but his fielders helped him. Third baseman Nick Castellanos reached over the railing of the Detroit dugout to catch a foul popup in the sixth.
Danny Duffy (4-6) allowed two runs and three hits in seven innings for Kansas City. He walked one and struck out five.
The Royals were without outfielder Alex Gordon, who sat out because of flu-like symptoms. Detroit outfielder Torii Hunter (hamstring) did not play either.
NOTES: The Tigers play at Cleveland on Friday night. Detroit RHP Rick Porcello (8-4) faces Cleveland RHP Corey Kluber (6-4). … The Royals host Seattle. Kansas City RHP James Shields (7-3) takes on Mariners RHP Hisashi Iwakuma (5-3).
Updated June 19, 2014
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