DETROIT -- Serious stuff? You betcha.
Why else would manager Jim Leyland have his closer work more than one inning to get a save?
"I don't like to do that," Leyland said Friday night after Joaquin Benoit got the final four outs of the Detroit Tigers' 6-3 victory over the Kansas City Royals. "But it's the first game of the series.
"The first game is a big one. You don't want to let that one get away. Plus we knew Cleveland won.
"And don't kid yourself. These guys (the Royals) aren't just thinking wild card. They're thinking about winning the division."
Prince Fielder drove in three runs with a home run and a single and Justin Verlander broke a six-start winless streak to help Detroit reduce its magic number for clinching the American League Central title to any combination of 10 Tigers wins plus losses by the second-place Indians. Kansas City's drive to earn a wild-card playoff berth was stalled.
Verlander (13-11) hadn't won since Aug. 6, but he lasted 6 2/3 innings, allowing seven hits and three runs while striking out seven as Detroit maintained its 6 1/2-game spread over Cleveland.
Fielder blasted his 24th home run following a leadoff double by Miguel Cabrera in the fourth. He capped a three-run fifth with an RBI single that chased Bruce Chen (7-3) that gave him 102 RBIs and marked the third straight year and sixth out of seven he has reached 100 RBIs.
"(Chen) was sharp," manager Ned Yost of Kansas City said. "The first four innings he pitched pretty good. He kind of lost the corners in the fifth and left some pitches out over the middle of the plate.
"That pitch to Fielder was supposed to be away, but it sort of came back over the middle of the plate. The single was just a bloop."
Verlander gave up an RBI single to Billy Butler, who is hitting .441 over his career against Verlander, with two out in the sixth and then Salvador Perez, batting .381 against Verlander in his short career, followed with an RBI double to cut Detroit's lead to 6-3.
Drew Smyly relieved Verlander and struck out Alex Gordon on a 2-2 breaking ball to end the seventh. Benoit had to bail out Jose Veras with the bases loaded and two outs in the eighth, which he did by striking out David Lough.
Benoit gave up a leadoff single in the ninth but retired the next three for his 19th save. He has worked more than one inning seven times this season, five since he became the closer in mid-June.
"He's pitched well against us this year," Yost said, noting his Royals are now 3-1 over Verlander this season. "It's just that we've out-pitched him. We didn't do that this time. We had opportunities, like the bases loaded in the eighth, but we just couldn't capitalize."
Detroit took a 6-1 lead in the fifth with Torii Hunter hitting a two-run single and Fielder following with his RBI hit.
The Royals had tied the score at 1-1 in the fourth on an RBI double by Perez.
Detroit scored in the opening inning with Austin Jackson reaching third with a leadoff double plus an error by Gordon in left while Hunter knocked him in with a slow grounder to short.
Chen gave up six runs (five earned) in 4 1/3 innings.
NOTES: Yost elected to skip LHP Danny Duffy, whose turn it was to start Friday night, to keep his more veteran starters in order. Duffy slots back into the rotation Tuesday against the Cleveland. ... Detroit has named its minor league player and pitcher of the year. 2B Devon Travis was the top player, hitting a combined .351 for Class A teams West Michigan and Lakeland. LHP Jose Alvarez, currently with the Tigers, was honored as the top pitcher. He signed as a free agent and went 8-6 with a 2.80 ERA for Triple-A Toledo. ... Gordon, a left-handed batter, entered the game hitting .245 against right-handers and .323 against southpaws. Gordon's first-inning error was his first after 141 in a row without one. His last one was Sept. 27, 2012, against Detroit. ... Verlander picked Emilio Bonifacio off first in the fourth inning, the 24th time in his career he has picked a runner off.