KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Anibal Sanchez watched perhaps the weakest-hit ball of the night float just over his head, landing with a thud between the pitcher's mound and second base.
The Detroit Tigers' starter tried to make a whirling grab, but couldn't quite get his fingers around the ball. He let out an anguished cry as Eric Hosmer reached first base and Mike Moustakas came home with the lone run in the Kansas City Royal's 1-0 victory Wednesday night.
"It's part of the game, a blooper like that," Sanchez said.
Sanchez (2-4) lasted seven innings in his best start for Detroit but was upstaged by crafty veteran Bruce Chen (10-10), who allowed only four hits in a season-high eight frames.
Greg Holland survived a shaky ninth for his ninth save of the year.
The Tigers came to town hoping to make up ground on the AL Central-leading White Sox, but the third-place Royals have gotten the best of them through the first two games of the series.
Kansas City battered reigning AL MVP and Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander in the opener Tuesday night, scoring eight earned runs in 5 2-3 innings. Moustakas then delivered the go-ahead RBI double in the eighth to give the Royals a 9-8 victory.
They did it with pitching and defense Wednesday night, getting Chen's best start of the year and then turning a pair of inning-ending double plays to help him out.
"Chen pitched a great game. A great matchup — Chen and Sanchez — and Chen was just a little better," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "Chen throws this when you're looking for that, and vice versa. He knows what he's doing, obviously. He's not overpowering. If you look at the radar gun, he's not one of those guys that's going to impress you, but he's a good pitcher."
Still, the Tigers had a chance to steal a victory in the ninth inning.
Andy Dirks led off with a single against Holland, and Miguel Cabrera ripped a pitch to center field. Jarrod Dyson, the fastest player on the Royals' roster, sprinted to his right and managed to make a diving grab, saving the tying run and quite possibly the game.
"The catch in the last inning was huge," Leyland said. "I think the ball actually sliced back to him a little bit he hit it so good. He made a great play."
Prince Fielder singled to put runners on first and second, keeping hope alive, but Holland struck out Delmon Young and Jhonny Peralta to end the game.
The fact that the Tigers were still in it was a testament to Sanchez, who was just as good as Chen for three innings before finding trouble he couldn't escape in the fourth.
Moustakas doubled down the right-field line with one out and Hosmer came to the plate with two outs. He managed to catch a pitch so close to the hands that it popped over Sanchez's head like a knuckleball, finding what manager Ned Yost called "the Bermuda triangle" of the infield.
Sanchez tried to grab it while whirling toward first, but he just about whiffed on the pick-up and Hosmer had an RBI single. Brayan Pena grounded out to leave the score 1-0.
"Isn't it amazing?" Hosmer asked. "You can go up there and hit three lasers at guys, and then have a hit like that and it ends up deciding the game."
The Tigers' best scoring chance against Chen came in the seventh, when Cabrera scorched a pitch to center for a leadoff double. He advanced to third on Fielder's flyout, and Chen hit Young with a pitch to put runners on the corners with one out.
Relying on his deep repertoire of off-speed stuff, Chen struck out Peralta and then watched Moustakas charge a grounder to third by Jeff Baker and throw him out to end the threat.
Chen retired the side in the eighth before Holland slammed the door in the ninth.
"I felt really good. I felt like my teammates played really good defense," Chen said. "After the third inning, I didn't have to shake off anything. Everything was working."
NOTES: Leyland and Yost both praised the umpiring crew for taking a second look at a foul ball hit by Young in the ninth inning Tuesday night. The ball just skirted the foul pole and was ruled foul, a decision upheld after the video review.