DETROIT -- Once in a while, Alex Avila said, you take a shot.
Avila took a shot with one out in the eighth inning Sunday and hit the target -- the seats beyond the high wall in right center.
Avila hit two home runs to account for all of Detroit's runs in the Tigers' 3-2 victory over the Kansas City Royals.
The win reduced Detroit's magic number for clinching the AL Central to nine pending the result of second-place Cleveland's game with the Chicago White Sox. Kansas City entered the day 3 1/2 games out of the second Wild Card spot.
"You might try for a home run in a certain spot every now and then, on a certain pitch," Avila said. "I got one."
Avila elaborated a little later after boosting his home run total to 11 and his RBI count to 45 in a spotty season.
"It was a 1-1 count," he said. "I was looking for something up and I thought if I get it, I might try to hit very hard. I hit it very hard."
Royals' manager Ned Yost sort of second-guessed himself for leaving starter Jeremy Guthrie (14-11) in just a little too long.
"I thought he could get us through the inning," Yost said. "It was the bottom of the order. And the way he was pitching, I had a good feeling about it. I may have pushed it a little too strong."
Avila hit his 10th home run of the season after Kansas City failed to turn a double play in the second. Alcides Escobar bobbled a bad-hop grounder just for a moment but it was enough to let Omar Infante beat the relay to first. Avila cranked an 0-1 pitch into the bullpen area in left center.
"If that ball doesn't come up on Escobar, it's a solo home run," Yost said.
Tigers manager Jim Leyland said, "He can hit a ball out either way, which he showed in this game. He can score you from first. I like guys who can do that."
Avila's second home run came just a little late to let Max Scherzer succeed in his fourth try for his 20th victory.
The blame there goes to Drew Smyly, who didn't check Escobar after he doubled to lead off the inning. Escobar went on first movement and stole third while Emilio Bonifacio was whiffing for the second out. Escobar was then in position to score on a short wild pitch.
Avila collided with batter Eric Hosmer going for the ball, which was a short distance away down the first base line. Hosmer hit his 20th home run in the fourth inning to cut a 2-0 deficit in half.
Joaquin Benoit worked a 1-2-3 ninth for his 20th save.
Scherzer went seven innings and struck out 12. It was his seventh time this season at 10 strikeouts or more and the 17th time in his career.
"At the end of the day all you can do is go out and pitch well," Scherzer said. "I pitched well. We won."
The injuries that have reduced Miguel Cabrera to a plodder on the bases cost Detroit at least one run in the sixth, when he led off with a single and hobbled to third on a double to extreme right by Prince Fielder. The next two hitters hit slow grounders to first for outs and Cabrera had to hold on both. Infante grounded out to short to end the threat.
NOTES: SS Jose Iglesias of Detroit was held out of Sunday's starting lineup by manager Jim Leyland to give his shin splints a rest, although he came in for defense in the ninth. ... Despite the loss, Kansas City won the season series from Detroit, 10-9, with 10 of the games decided by one run. ... Cabrera finished the game 2-for-4 and is now 7-for-32 (.219) in Detroit's last 11 games, during which the Tigers have gone 5-6. Cabrera, who has no home runs and three RBI in those 11 games, didn't play one and was ejected in his first at-bat of another. ... Bonifacio was picked off first by Scherzer in the first inning, the third straight game in which the Royals' second baseman has been picked off first by Tigers pitchers.