KANSAS CITY (AP) - Danny Duffy did his best to match Justin Verlander pitch for pitch Monday night, hanging tough with the reigning Cy Young winner until the fifth inning.
He made one terrible mistake to Brandon Inge, and it cost Kansas City the game.
The Tigers' No. 9 hitter turned on a 1-0 pitch for his first hit of the season, a go-ahead two-run homer to center field, and the cushion was enough for Verlander to survive a shaky ninth inning and deliver Detroit a 3-2 victory in the series opener.
"I made a huge mistake to Inge," Duffy said. "He knows what he's doing."
So does Verlander, who allowed an RBI single by Humberto Quintero with two outs in the ninth, and then loaded the bases before striking out Alex Gordon to end the game.
The reigning AL MVP improved to 14-2 in his career against Kansas City, another solid start dooming the Royals to their fifth consecutive defeat.
"We need a win in the clubhouse, obviously. We need one," Duffy said. "We need one for the town, for the fans and we need to start rolling. We're close. We're there. I'm so confident in this team. We're bummed out, obviously, tonight. But we've got a lot of fire in our eyes."
Duffy (1-1) provided a bright spot in what has been a dark week for the Royals, who lost in extra innings to Oakland when Jonathan Broxton hit back-to-back batters to end the game, and then were swept in decisive fashion by the Cleveland Indians over the weekend.
Duffy allowed three runs and seven hits and a walk in 61â„3 innings.
"He had fantastic stuff," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "He really got settled in the third inning, changing speeds and kept the ball down. That's a good offensive group over there."
Austin Jackson staked the Tigers to an early lead when he hit a 3-1 pitch from Duffy into the seats in left field, his second homer of the season and the fifth leadoff of his career.
Detroit nearly added to the lead when Brennan Boesch singled and Miguel Cabrera worked a walk. Prince Fielder grounded into a double play, though, and Delmon Young flied out to end the threat and keep Kansas City within striking distance.
Gordon eventually matched the run when he doubled in the bottom half of the first, moved to third on a sacrifice bunt and scored on Billy Butler's hit.
That was all Kansas City could muster until the ninth, when Butler singled leading off and Jason Bourgeois scored as a pinch runner on Quintero's single. Mitch Maier drew a walk to prompt a visit from Detroit manager Jim Leyland, but he elected to leave Verlander in the game.
Verlander promptly hit Alcides Escobar to load the bases, but Gordon went down looking.
"He was going to walk off that mound the winner or the loser," Leyland said, despite his ace having thrown 131 pitches. "It was as simple as that."
Verlander changed speeds and took advantage of the corners to flummox the young Kansas City lineup most of the night. He retired 11 straight at one point, and struck out nine overall.
Of course, his dominance was nothing new to folks in Kansas City.
The right-hander has made a mockery of the Royals in recent years, especially at Kauffman Stadium, where he improved to 9-2 and has allowed only 18 earned runs in 881â„3 innings.
He finally had something to show for his third consecutive strong start. Verlander took the loss in a 4-2 defeat to Tampa Bay, when he allowed four runs over 81â„3 innings, and received no-decision despite allowing a pair of hits over eight scoreless innings against Boston.
Duffy did his best to make it another fruitless outing.
The young left-hander, who went six scoreless innings against Oakland his first time out, used his overpowering fastball to blow through most of the Detroit lineup. Alex Avila struck out twice against Duffy, and Fielder and Cabrera also went down at the plate.
His only major mistakes were to Jackson in the first inning and Inge in the fifth.
They were the only mistakes that Verlander needed.
"It was a big see-saw battle, back and forth," Yost said. "A lot of excitement at the end."
Notes: Gordon, who was made spokesman for the All-Star FanFest earlier in the day, earned a round of applause with a face-planting grab on a sinking fly ball to LF in the fifth inning. ... Detroit LHP Drew Smyly takes the mound tonight against LHP Bruce Chen.