Last offseason, as franchises around baseball embarked on their annual winter spending sprees, lavishing close to $3 billion on the talent pool, two franchises in the American League Central went searching for starting pitching. The situations were disparate, and the price tags were not close, but when it was over, two teams had both acquired something necessary.

The Detroit Tigers plucked Jordan Zimmermann. The Royals landed Ian Kennedy. The arms race was back on in the AL Central.

Wednesday night at Kauffman Stadium brought the meeting of the two men, pitchers who cashed in for a combined $180 million in free agency. The first round went to Detroit, who scored a 3-2 victory on an breezeless evening at Kauffman Stadium.

One night after their offense revved in the series opener, the Royals could not solve Zimmermann, who yielded nothing over 6.1 scoreless innings. One night after scoring eight runs with two outs in an 8-6 victory, the Royals could not secure a timely hit against the Tigers’ starter, who finished with eight strikeouts.

“I figured coming in that this was going to be a pitcher’s duel,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “And it ended up being one.”

The Royals stirred to life in the bottom of the ninth, nearly flipping the script and piecing together another improbable comeback. They sliced into a 3-0 lead with Alex Gordon and Salvador Perez clubbing back-to-back solo homers off closer Francisco Rodriguez. Outfielder Jarrod Dyson, who represented the tying run, walked and stole second with two outs. Shortstop Alcides Escobar following by walking, which put the winning run on base.

The late surge was snuffed out moments later. Rodriguez struck out Mike Moustakas swinging to end the game. He threw 29 pitches, allowed two homers and issued two walks. He also earned the save.

The late drama turned Detroit’s ninth-inning insurance run against reliever Chien-Ming Wang into the decisive run. It turned a defensive gem from Detroit shortstop Jose Iglesias — with nobody out in the ninth — into a momentous play.

“Iglesias saved the game for them,” Yost said. “He’s an All-Star shortstop. He’s a slick little player.”

The Royals fell to 9-5 entering the series finale at 6:15 p.m. Thursday. Edinson Volquez will take the mound against Mike Pelfrey, a matchup that appears tilted in Kansas City’s favor. The Royals nearly ripped one from Detroit on Wednesday.

The Royals left nine runners on base, stranding two runners apiece in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings. They collected 10 hits and finished with just two runs. The most egregious missed opportunity came in the fifth, when the score was still just 1-0. After putting two runners on with nobody out, second baseman Omar Infante derailed a potential rally by failing to get a bunt down and then striking out.

Zimmermann made the Royals pay for the missed chances. He utilized a hard cutter that resembles a slider. He kept hitters off balance with a solid curveball.

“He keeps the ball down,” Yost said. “He pitches up when he wants to. When he pitches up, it’s not a mistake. (But) he keeps the ball down.”

The Royals left nine runners on base, stranding two runners apiece in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings. They collected 10 hits and finished with just two runs. The most egregious missed opportunity came in the fifth, when the score was still just 1-0. After putting two runners on with nobody out, second baseman Omar Infante derailed a potential rally by failing to get a bunt down and then striking out.

Zimmermann made the Royals pay for the missed chances. He utilized a hard cutter that resembles a slider. He kept hitters off balance with a solid curveball.

“He keeps the ball down,” Yost said. “He pitches up when he wants to. When he pitches up, it’s not a mistake. (But) he keeps the ball down.”

While Detroit dipped deep into the coffers and went premium, the Royals spent $70 million on durability, placing a bet on Kennedy, who profiles as something akin to the Ford Taurus of starting pitchers.

In two starts, Kennedy had already paid dividends, allowing just one run in 13 2/3 innings. On Wednesday, he offered his third straight “quality” start, allowing two runs in 6 1/3 innings while striking out seven.

The performance was good enough to merit a win. Yet Kennedy was frustrated by two missed pitches. He elevated a curveball against Detroit’s Ian Kinsler in the third, which resulted in the game’s first run. He missed another curveball against Detroit’s Victor Martinez, who collected his 1,000th RBI in the sixth inning.

“I should have buried or thrown a little better pitch, especially (to) Kinsler,” said Kennedy, who dropped to 2-1 with a 1.35 ERA after three starts. “I was a little upset with myself during those two pitches.”

After the Tigers took the early lead, the Royals threatened in the bottom of the fifth, opening the inning with consecutive singles by Gordon and Perez. But Infante couldn’t get a bunt down in fair territory before striking out and Dyson hit into an inning-ending double play. Gordon made a late dash home after Dyson was thrown out at first and Perez got hung up between first and second, but the throw was on time and on target.

The Royals wasted another opportunity in the sixth, this time squandering a two-out gift from the Detroit defense. With nobody on base, Lorenzo Cain hit a slow chopper that confounded Iglesias at shortstop. Moments later, Eric Hosmer chopped one back to the pitcher’s mound, where Zimmermann proceeded to juggle the baseball for a few seconds before failing to make the play. That brought up Kendrys Morales, who ended the inning by grounding out to second.

Kennedy departed after loading the bases with one out in the seventh. But reliever Luke Hochevar kept the Royals within striking distance by working out of the jam. Joakim Soria worked a scoreless eighth inning on the same day Yost announced that Kelvin Herrera could take some of his high-leverage appearances. Minutes later, reliever Wang allowed a run while working the ninth.

In the moment, the run appeared a footnote. After the ninth-inning drama — and after the Royals could not solve Zimmermann — it stood as the winning run.

“You got a really good lineup over there, a really good team,” Kennedy said. “You keep it really close, but Zimmermann did a really good job.”