By NOAH TRISTER
AP Baseball Writer
DETROIT (AP) -- Max Scherzer escaped a bases-loaded jam in the fifth, Rajai Davis and J.D. Martinez homered, and the Detroit Tigers beat Kansas City 4-2 on Tuesday night to pull within percentage points of the Royals atop the AL Central.
Scherzer (16-5) allowed a run and seven hits in 6 2-3 innings. Kansas City was down 3-1 in the fifth when Alex Gordon's deep fly to right went just foul with two on. Gordon walked to load the bases with one out, but Salvador Perez lined out and Eric Hosmer struck out.
Joe Nathan earned his 30th save in 36 chances, allowing two infield singles to start the ninth before ending it with two strikeouts sandwiched around a picked-off runner.
Kansas City's Jason Vargas (11-8) allowed four runs and six hits in 5 1-3 innings. He struck out six and walked three.
Detroit will try to sweep the three-game series Wednesday night.
The Royals had two on for the dangerous Gordon in the ninth, but he struck out, and pinch-runner Jarrod Dyson was picked off second. Perez went down swinging for the final out.
The Tigers are trying for their fourth straight AL Central title, and the hallmark of this run has been their ability to beat their closest competitors in the division head to head. Last year, Detroit went 15-4 against Cleveland and finished one game ahead of the Indians.
The Tigers are 11-4 against the Royals this year, and that's why the race is now in a virtual tie. Detroit has one more win and one more loss than Kansas City -- and the Royals still have to finish a suspended game in which they trail Cleveland 4-2 in the 10th.
Scherzer had allowed 14 earned runs over his previous four starts -- not terrible but below his standards as the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner. The Tigers led 3-0 in the fifth when Omar Infante hit an RBI single for the Royals -- but Scherzer avoided the big inning.
The normally sure-handed Royals made two errors Tuesday after making two in the series opener. Detroit second baseman Ian Kinsler, on the other hand, made a crucial diving stop to his left on Josh Willingham's grounder in the eighth. The Royals ended up scoring a run that inning, but that was it.
Martinez opened the scoring with a sacrifice fly in the first, and Davis' two-run homer in the second made it 3-0.
Martinez's 20th homer of the season gave Detroit a 4-1 lead in the fifth.
Royals: Kansas City is listing RHP Liam Hendriks (1-1) as Thursday night's starter against Boston -- LHP Danny Duffy is missing that turn in the rotation because of a sore shoulder.
Tigers: Detroit expects RHP Joakim Soria (left oblique strain) to be activated from the disabled list Wednesday.
Kansas City's James Shields (13-7) faces Detroit's Rick Porcello (15-10) on Wednesday, although the possibility of rain puts that game in some doubt. Shields is coming off a 1-0 win over the Yankees in New York on Friday.
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