DETROIT (AP) — Max Scherzer could only watch as the lead — and another shot at his 20th win — slipped away.
The Detroit right-hander didn't mind, especially once Alex Avila's homer put the Tigers ahead again moments later.
Avila homered twice, including a tiebreaking solo shot in the eighth inning that lifted Detroit over the Kansas City Royals 3-2 Sunday. Scherzer was in line for his 20th win when reliever Drew Smyly allowed the Royals to tie it in the top of the eighth, but Avila answered with a drive to right-center for his 11th home run this season.
"We're just looking to win the game," Scherzer said. "I don't care if I win another game, if we win our division, that's all that matters."
The AL Central-leading Tigers 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. He allowed a run and five hits with 12 strikeouts and one walk in seven innings. He was on track to become baseball's first 20-game winner this year when he pitched out of a second-and-third, one-out jam in the seventh to preserve a one-run lead.
But Smyly (6-0) allowed a leadoff double to Alcides Escobar in the eighth. After a flyout by Alex 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.