KANSAS CITY -- Who would've seen this coming?
The Royals came into this series with a 1-7 record against Detroit this season and the Tigers were a hungry second-place team eager to close ground on Chicago in the American League Central.
Yet the Royals, behind the pitching of Jeremy Guthrie, completed a three-game sweep of the Tigers with a 2-1 victory on Thursday night at Kauffman Stadium. The three one-run victories gave the Royals their first series sweep of Detroit since Sept. 8-10, 2009.
While the Tigers lost three straight in Kansas City, the division-leading White Sox ended a four-game series at Baltimore with three losses -- yet increased their lead from 2 1/2 to three games.
After a 9-8 win in the series opener, the Royals took a 1-0 win behind Bruce Chen and then this one.
"Pretty tough to shut that offense down on one run in 18 innings," said Alex Gordon, whose leadoff homer in the sixth inning proved to be the winning run.
Guthrie, coming off a poor start at Boston, looked more like the guy who had a no-hit bid on Aug. 19 against the White Sox. Except this time he gave up 10 hits, but zero walks in his 7 1/3 innings.
"I was going to go out there and throw strikes, and when you throw strikes, guys put some swings on 'em," Guthrie said. "The biggest thing was I was able to keep nine of them to singles and just allow one extra-base hit. That was kind of the big key in terms of allowing hits but no runs."
He had a 2-0 lead after Gordon's homer off Rick Porcello. In the same inning, Billy Butler doubled and was at third when Darin Downs' pitch got past Gerald Laird. The ball, however, bounced off the backstop and right to the catcher and his flip to Downs covering the plate retired Butler.
"That's a good gamble," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "Nine times out of 10 that ball hits and bounces up, that ball bounced back."
The Royals' first run came in the fifth inning when they stirred the crowd of 12,997 by loading the bases with none out. Mike Moustakas doubled into the right-center gap, Jeff Francoeur singled to center (ending his 0-for-19 skid) and Eric Hosmer walked.
However, Porcello escaped with just one run in. That came as Johnny Giavotella bounced into a forceout.
Guthrie pitched into the eighth and got one out, but when Prince Fielder and Delmon Young each singled, he was relieved by Tim Collins. The lefty struck out pinch-hitter Jeff Baker, but Jhonny Peralta grounded an RBI single to center. That brought right-hander Aaron Crow into the game to retire Omar Infante on a fly ball.
It was the Tigers' ninth inning that stirred up intense drama.
With closer Greg Holland held out after getting tough saves in the first two games, rookie Kelvin Herrera got a shot at his first Major League save in the ninth. He began by walking pinch-hitter Alex Avila on four pitches.
"That was my first save opportunity in the big leagues so I was a little nervous, to be honest," Herrera said.
Austin Jackson hit a sharp liner to center field, but Lorenzo Cain rushed in for a diving catch. It was almost a replica of the catch made by Jarrod Dyson in the ninth inning on Wednesday night.
"That's what I do, man, I make plays out there," Cain said. "I've got to find ways to use these legs as much as possible. I got a good jump on it and just made the play."
But that was just one out and Andy Dirks singled to right field, bringing up Miguel Cabrera. His ground ball was taken by second baseman Giavotella who flipped to Escobar, just as Dirks was bearing down on him. Escobar hesitated.
"I didn't think Esky was going to throw to first and then he threw the guy out," Herrera said.
Indeed, for a second, it looked as if the play was over as Escobar held the ball. But then Escobar leaped over the sliding Dirks, fired to Hosmer at first and nipped Cabrera for the game-ending double play.
How did he do it?
"I don't know, man," Escobar said. "I wanted to make sure I made a good throw. I know it's Miggy running and he's slow and I can take my time to make a good throw."
Hosmer claimed he wasn't surprised to see the ball coming his way.
"Nothing surprises me with Esky," Hosmer said. "That was a good clean slide by Dirks, he did what he had to do. We know Miggy's been nursing that sore leg -- actually both of them, it looked like -- and that's just a head's-up play by him, knowing he had time."
Tigers manager Jim Leyland departed with praise for the Royals.
"They played very well. They made two great catches in center field the last two nights. And the third baseman [Moustakas] played Gold Glove third base against us this series," Leyland said. "But that's all part of it. That's a very good, energetic team."
Indeed the Royals are having their best month of the season, heading into the last day of August with a 17-11 mark. That's in sharp contrast with their 6-15 April that included a 12-game losing streak.
"You want to end the year better than what you started, and I think we're doing that," Yost said.
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.