DETROIT — Thievery, it appears, can be accomplished in six seconds. And when the components of the job come together like this, the result is close to perfection.
The outfielder sprinting back to the wall. The baseball hanging in the air. The final jump perfectly timed on a Monday afternoon at Comerica Park.
Alex Gordon had robbed homers before, scaling an outfield wall and bringing a baseball back to the playing field. But perhaps never quite like this.
In the bottom of the fourth inning, Gordon, the Royals' left fielder, retreated back to the wall in left, gripped his right hand around the chain-link portion of the fence for leverage, and then he waited. Detroit's Mikie Mahtook had clubbed a high drive to left field with two men on base against Royals starter Jakob Junis. Gordon waited two full seconds at the wall and then hurled his body into the air, pulling the baseball back with his glove.
The catch prevented a three-run homer and preserved a five-run lead. The moment of defensive brilliance highlighted the Royals' 7-6 victory over the Tigers on the first day of a three-game series.
The moment stung Mahtook, a young outfielder who had, only one day earlier, knocked a homer over the wall in left field here with his right hand on a bizarre play against Cleveland. As he rounded first base, he slapped hands with first-base coach Omar Vizquel, only to look out toward left field in horror.
The run-prevention was needed when reliever Brandon Maurer served up a three-run homer to Nicholas Castellanos in the bottom of the ninth. Left-hander Scott Alexander was called upon to earn another one-out save with two runners on.
By the end, the performance had propelled the Royals (68-68) back to .500. They will have two more days to fatten up against the stripped-down Tigers, a rebuilding roster suddenly without the services of Justin Verlander (traded to Houston), Miguel Cabrera (suspended for his role in a brawl with the Yankees) and Victor Martinez (out for the year because of a heart issue).
On Monday, that meant that Tigers starter Artie Lewicki was making his major league debut in a mostly empty stadium in downtown Detroit. The Royals pierced him for five earned runs in five innings, taking control during a four-run third.
The early assault was punctuated by a two-run double from Melky Cabrera and a two-run blast from Eric Hosmer, who piled up his 23rd homer of the season.
Salvador Perez and Alcides Escobar tacked on solo homers in the seventh and eighth innings, giving the Royals a four-run lead. Perez, who matched his career high with 22 homers, had not gone deep since July 28, a drought that included a long stint on the disabled list. Escobar hadn't homered since July 14 against Texas.