DETROIT -- Give Andy Dirks credit for a hard slide that gave the Tigers a hard-earned victory on Wednesday night. Royals manager Ned Yost certainly did.
When Dirks slid into second base to prevent a double play in the eighth inning, the Tigers scored the deciding run in the 5-4 win that kept them in the middle of their battle with the White Sox for the American League Central title. It was the Tigers' third straight win over the Royals, who now have lost four in a row.
"You've got to credit Dirks with busting his tail and getting down there and busting that thing up," Yost said.
That was the ultimate moment of an eventful eighth inning that began with Kelvin Herrera entering in relief of starter Jeremy Guthrie.
Prince Fielder was retired on a drive that took David Lough to the center-field wall for the catch. But then Delmon Young's sharp grounder glanced away from first baseman Eric Hosmer. The ball was grabbed by second baseman Irving Falu, but his throw was bobbled and dropped by Herrera at the bag. It was ruled a single.
Was Young out if Herrera held the ball?
"It would've been bang-bang, I couldn't tell," Yost said.
Don Kelly ran for Young and stole second, just beating catcher Salvador Perez's peg to Falu.
"I think he was out. It was close," Falu said.
Dirks lined a single to left, but Kelly had to hold at third. Jhonny Peralta grounded to third baseman Mike Moustakas, who went for a double play, but Dirks slid high and hard into Falu, who couldn't get off a throw to first.
"You just try to get a piece of him. You're not trying to hurt him per se," Dirks said. "You're just trying to break up the double play. However you can do it to help the team is what your goal is."
So Kelly, who had taken a big lead, scored, and the 4-4 tie was broken. There was no doubt in Moustakas' mind that he made the right play, ignoring Kelly's dash to the plate.
"Absolutely, that's a double-play ball," Moustakas said. "It's a ground ball. Peralta got out of the box pretty slow, but Dirks did a heck of a job getting on top of Irv down there, and that's just kind of how the game goes."
It was the right play, Yost agreed.
"With Peralta running, that's a good play right there," Yost said. "It was hit hard enough, but Dirks made the play, he made it happen. He got a great jump on the ball, went in aggressively and cleanly, and broke the play up."
"I don't know if it's where the throw was or what, but he was on my side of the bag, which gave me a better chance at him," Dirks said. "I was just going in hard and trying to make a good, clean, hard slide, and that's what I did."
"I tried to make the double play, but he got me," Falu said. "I thought if I'd throw, I'd maybe throw bad, because he was too close."
The Royals had taken a three-run lead off Tigers starter Rick Porcello, using doubles by Falu, Lough and Alex Gordon, plus Billy Butler's single, to score three runs in the third. Then Jeff Francoeur belted a home run, his 14th this season, to left field to add a run in the fourth.
But the Tigers came right back against Guthrie, and it didn't take long -- a two-run homer to right-center by Alex Avila and a solo shot to left by Austin Jackson tied the score at 4.
"The home runs were big swings for them. When I let 'em out of the hand, I didn't expect them to go like they did," Guthrie said. "But both hitters did a real nice job of putting the good part of the bat [on it] and driving it really hard."
Gordon prevented a home run by Miguel Cabrera, who opened the fifth with a high drive that hung in the air as if attached to a parachute. Gordon timed it perfectly, leaped and kept the ball from crossing the fence.
"I play him almost by the wall anyway," Gordon said. "With his power, I saw it up in the air, and I had plenty of time to judge it. I found the fence, and that fence is pretty short. I don't want to say it was an easy play, but it wasn't that hard of a play."
The play prevented the 43rd home run for the Triple Crown aspirant.
"The fans let me know about it," Gordon said.
Alcides Ecobar's play in the same inning was anything but easy. He raced into left field and, with his back to Young's floating pop fly, he somehow caught the ball.
"Escobar's was a phenomenal play," Yost said. "Gordon played it perfectly, but, I mean, it was a routine catch. Escobar's was far from routine -- a tremendous play."
But in the end, the Royals had lost again to a hard-driving Tigers team with a lot to win -- or lose. On the other hand, Yost feels that his Royals are doing some hard driving on their own.
"I love my team. My team plays their hearts out," he said. "They may fall down, but they get back up. ... We're in this now against a team like this that has something to play for, and we're putting up a fight. We played three games and we're 0-3, but I love my team."
Tigers manager Jim Leyland has certainly noticed the stubborn resistance his team has encountered.
"This was a really good baseball game against a really good team, and obviously, you can see the way they're going at it," Leyland said. "They're going at it just like we are."
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.