DETROIT -- The Tigers didn't need Justin Verlander to beat the Royals to prove they can win this year's World Series.
They did need to show they could slow down the running game. In October baseball, with low-scoring games common, a stolen base could decide the game that decides a series.
So the most important achievement at Comerica Park on Friday night wasn't that Verlander beat the Royals for the first time this year. It was that for the fourth game in a row over the last two weekends, the Tigers slowed down the Royals, who lead the league in stolen bases.
Verlander went 6 2/3 innings for this 6-3 win, and what seemed to excite him the most was picking Jarrod Dyson off first base to end the fifth.
An inning before that, catcher Alex Avila threw out Emilio Bonifacio trying to steal after his leadoff single.
"We finally were able to stop some of it," manager Jim Leyland said. "I'm proud of them, because for one night at least we shut it down pretty good."
When the Tigers arrived in Kansas City last weekend, it had been a month since they'd thrown out anyone attempting to steal. They had the lowest caught-stealing percentage in the league. And the Royals led the league in steals.
In the series opener last weekend, Anibal Sanchez -- whose one weakness has been stolen bases -- picked off a runner. In the next two games, catchers Brayan Pena and Avila threw out a runner, respectively. But the Tigers lost both those games, the second to left-hander Bruce Chen, who had the Tigers so out of whack that Leyland simply said, "We hit a lot of fly balls."
The Tigers scored all six runs Friday night off Chen. They came out much more eager to swing at his first pitch of the at-bat than last Sunday. The first three batters in the first inning Friday night hit Chen's first pitch, including Austin Jackson, who led off with a double and then scored.
"He does a good job of changing speeds, so we tried to attack him early to avoid those tough breaking balls and off-speed pitches later in the count," Jackson said. "Last time, we were working the count and he started to go to that off-speed stuff later in the count and get you off-balance."
Verlander was 3-of-5 in quality starts against the Royals this year. On Friday night, he finally got the combination of a quality start and decent run support.
In defeat, the Royals emphasized anew what has been perhaps Verlander's premier problem in his hard-to-analyze season: two-out runs.
All three runs off Verlander Friday night came with two out. He has allowed 42 runs with two out this season --by far his highest single-season total, according to research done through Baseball-Reference.com.
It's up for debate why Verlander has allowed so many two-out runs. From the start of his rookie season in 2006 until now, Verlander leads the majors in pitches thrown --more than 28,000. Perhaps he's finally feeling the toll of all those pitches now when he can't quite finish off innings.
Leyland didn't give Verlander a chance to give up more two-out runs in the seventh. He lifted him with two out, a three-run lead, a runner aboard and power threat Alex Gordon at the plate. After Verlander left to a standing ovation, Drew Smyly struck out Gordon in a left-vs.-left matchup.
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