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Verlander earns his 18th win as Tigers top Royals

DETROIT (AP) -- The television was tuned to another channel in the Tigers clubhouse when Detroit's division-title hopes disappeared.

Moments after their 7-2 win over the Kansas City Royals, the Tigers were eliminated from the AL Central race when Cleveland beat over Oakland. But Jim Leyland's office TV was off and the players were watching the Lions-Eagles game.

"I knew it was getting close, but I wasn't even sure if they could do it today," said Curtis Granderson. "It's disappointing, but we knew it was coming."

The defending AL champions still have an outside shot at the wild card, but after the Yankees beat the Blue Jays 7-5, the Tigers were 5½ behind with six games to play. They aren't counting on a New York collapse in the final week to reach the postseason. That's why Leyland rested Magglio Ordonez, Gary Sheffield and Ivan Rodriguez.

"I almost feel like apologizing to the fans for having so many guys out on Fan Appreciation Day, but we've got a lot of banged-up players and I want to protect them," Leyland said. "Playing 162 games is really a grind."

Leyland didn't rest All-Star Justin Verlander, though, and he responded with his 18th win, aided by a pair of Marcus Thames homers.

"We're not giving up -- we're going to play hard the rest of the year," Thames said. "I'm going to keep trying to hit the ball hard."

Verlander (18-6) allowed two runs, five hits and two walks in six innings. He has 35 wins in his first two full seasons, the most for a Tigers pitcher since Frank Lary also had 35 from 1955-56.

"He learns something every time he's out there," Leyland said. "He's going to be special."

Detroit scored four runs off Jorge De La Rosa in the first and never looked back.

With one out, Placido Polanco singled and scored on Ryan Raburn's double. Carlos Guillen made it 2-0 with an RBI single, and Thames homered off the foul pole in left.

"We got behind early, and that makes it tough to get back into it," Kansas City manager Buddy Bell said.

De La Rosa (8-12) allowed four hits and a walk in the only inning of his first start since July 31.

"I felt really good, but I think I just threw the ball too hard," he said. "My control wasn't there, and I paid for it."

Billy Butler led off the Kansas City second with his eighth homer, but the Royals handed the run back when Ramon Santiago reached on an error by third baseman Alex Gordon and scored after another error by second baseman Jason Smith.

Thames led off the third with another homer to left, his 16th, to give Detroit a 6-1 lead.

Neither team scored again until Smith's RBI groundout made it 6-2 in the sixth, but the Royals never put together a serious rally against the Tigers' bullpen.

"The pen kept us in the game, but we just couldn't capitalize," Butler said.

Raburn capped the scoring with a leadoff homer in the eighth.

"I felt pretty good about this lineup, even if it didn't look great on paper," Leyland said. "We have some young guys who are hungry to play, and there are times that it is good to send in the shock troops."

Game notes
Thames has four two-homer games in his career, including three against the Royals. ... Ed Summers owns the Tigers record for wins in the first two seasons of a career -- 43 from 1908-09. ... The Tigers won the season series 11-7. ... Raburn's first-inning double was Detroit's 336th of the season. The Tigers need four more to pass the 1929 team for second on the franchise list. The 1934 Tigers hit 349 doubles. ... Butler's homer extended his hitting streak to 10 games. He is batting .383 against the Tigers this season.