Originally posted on Fox Sports Detroit  |  By DANA WAKIJI  |  Last updated 9/13/13
DETROIT -- Fall is in the air, Comerica Park had another sellout crowd and you can sense the end of the regular season is coming. The Tigers (85-62) moved a little closer to the postseason with their 6-3 victory over the Kansas City Royals (77-70) Friday night. The Tigers kept the Cleveland Indians, who beat the Chicago White Sox earlier in the day, at bay, six games back in the Central Division. They also pushed the Royals to eight games back. "Obviously it's nice whenever you're playing a team that's trying to catch you, to be able to put a little bit more separation between you and them is always key," starter Justin Verlander said. A lot of that was due to Verlander, who allowed three runs on nine hits while striking out seven in 6 23 innings. Verlander, who has had a rough season by his lofty standards, appears to be rounding into shape at the right time. He's now 13-11 with a 3.66 ERA and 1.34 WHIP. "I thought that he was aggressive," manager Jim Leyland said. "I thought that he was well under control. I think the one inning after we had the longer inning there, I thought he got a little antsy. Probably got in a hurry to get the outs. Other than that, I thought he was terrific." Verlander, who has given up discussing the intricacies of his mechanics, believes he has improved in the last three starts despite not getting a win out of it until Friday. "I felt good, stuff was good," Verlander said. "That's the main thing I've been working on is getting my stuff back to where it needs to be and then worrying about executing it and then honing it in. "I think my stuff's been a lot better. Tonight I made a little bit of an adjustment with my grip on my curveball and that seemed to be working really well for me." Another good sign is the recent play of Prince Fielder. Fielder, who has been criticized heavily this season for having a down year, has actually been pretty productive. On the road trip, Fielder hit .400. Friday night he hit a go-ahead two-run home run in the fourth and added an RBI single in the fifth. Fielder now is batting .278 with 24 home runs and 102 RBIs. Fielder has 100-plus RBIs in six of the last seven seasons. "Princes home run was huge," Leyland said. "They scored, and Prince came right back and hit the two-run homer before they had an out the next inning. That was huge." The Tigers also need Torii Hunter, who struggled with a 6-for-32 (.188) road trip. Hunter came through with three RBIs Friday night, his ninth game of the season with three or more RBIs. If there are some lingering concerns heading into the final stretch, it's with Miguel Cabrera's health and the bullpen. Cabrera hit a double for his first extra-base hit since Aug. 26 Friday. "I think hes feeling better," Leyland said. "Im going to knock on wood. You never know how hes going to feel. He had yesterday off to rest up a little bit. But I do think hes feeling better, physically. "He hit extra today, thats a great sign. And I actually thought he was running a little bit better. Hes going to watch it, obviously. Hes not going to take any chances. Hes certainly not pain-free, or out of the woods, but I think he certainly is better than he has been." The Tigers had to turn to Joaquin Benoit in the eighth inning because Drew Smyly, after striking out two, walked Eric Hosmer. Then Jose Veras walked Billy Butler and hit Mike Moustakas to load the bases with two out. Fortunately for them, Benoit struck out David Lough. "I really dont like to have four-, five-out saves, but obviously, theres a lot at stake, and I felt like that gave us the best chance to win the game," Leyland said. "Jose mightve got him out, but I just felt like really that gave us the best chance." Smyly started out hot and has cooled some. Veras has moments when he loses the strike zone. But Benoit has been a godsend, converting all 19 save opportunities. "Obviously he stepped into a tough role, we've got a playoff contending team and we just handed the closer role over to him and he's taken it and run with it," Verlander said. "That's what you look for in a closer. "Obviously the ability's always been there, he just hasn't quite been handed the opportunity here in Detroit. He finds himself right in the thick of it right now and excelling. It's a fantastic thing to have and a lot of fun to watch."
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