Alex Avila homered twice, including a tiebreaking solo shot in the eighth inning that lifted the Detroit Tigers over the Kansas City Royals 3-2 Sunday.
Detroit's Max Scherzer struck out 12 in seven innings but he was denied his 20th victory when Kansas City tied it off Drew Smyly (6-0) in the eighth. Avila answered in the bottom half with a homer to right-center.
Joaquin Benoit got three outs for his 20th save in 20 chances for the AL Central-leading Tigers.
Jeremy Guthrie (14-11) pitched all eight innings for the Royals, who began the day 3 1-2 games back in the AL wild-card race.
Avila's first homer was a two-run drive in the second. Alex Gordon hit a solo homer for Kansas City in the fourth.
Detroit entered five games ahead of second-place Cleveland, which faced the Chicago White Sox.
Scherzer has two losses and two no-decisions since a 19-1 start but was terrific Sunday. The right-hander allowed a run and five hits with one walk, pitching out of a second-and-third, one-out jam in the seventh to preserve a one-run lead.
Smyly allowed a leadoff double to Alcides Escobar in the eighth. After a shallow flyout by Gordon, Emilio Bonifacio struck out — with Escobar stealing third on the third strike.
With Eric Hosmer batting, Smyly bounced a wild pitch that didn't skip too far away from Avila. Hosmer, who hits left-handed, stood and motioned to Escobar, who gambled by trying to score. Avila jumped up to retrieve the ball, which had bounced up the first-base line — but the Detroit catcher plowed right into Hosmer, who had moved slightly to his right in an apparent effort to get out of the way.
That collision cost the Tigers any chance to catch Escobar but it didn't cost them the game.
Avila's opposite-field homer opened the scoring in the second, but the Tigers blew a number of other chances with men on base. In the fifth, Miguel Cabrera led off with a single and Prince Fielder followed with a double. They were stranded when Guthrie retired Victor Martinez, Andy Dirks and Omar Infante on consecutive groundouts.
Gordon's solo homer down the line in right field to lead off the fourth made it 2-1, and Bonifacio followed with a single. Scherzer found a groove after that, retiring 10 of 11 with nine strikeouts before a one-out single by Salvador Perez in the seventh.
NOTES: Bonifacio was picked off by Scherzer in the first — the third straight game a Kansas City player was picked off. Toronto is the only other team to have that happen this year, according to STATS. The Blue Jays had a runner picked off three straight games in May. ... Detroit hosts Seattle on Monday night, with RHP Rick Porcello (12-8) facing LHP Joe Saunders (11-14). Kansas City takes on Cleveland. Royals RHP James Shields (11-9) opposes LHP Scott Kazmir (8-8).
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