Brian Bannister won for the sixth time in seven decisions, Alex Gordon hit a three-run double and the Royals beat the Tigers 6-3 Tuesday night.
"We've got to pitch better," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "Our starting pitchers have to get on a roll if we're going to an anything. I'm not worried about the standings. I'm only concerned about what our team does. I don't worry about the schedule."
Detroit dropped 3½ games behind division-leading Cleveland, the Tigers' biggest deficit in their division since before play on June 6. The lowly Royals are 5-8 against Detroit this season after taking three in a row from the Tigers on the final weekend of last season -- costing Detroit first place and forcing the Tigers into the wild-card berth.
"I know what they are playing for," Bannister said. "They going for first place or at least the wild card. They've got a lot on the line right now. I know that. They are putting their A lineup out there. I know they know Cleveland won tonight."
Most of Detroit's difficulties against Kansas City have been at Comerica Park: The Tigers had been 14-1 at Kauffman Stadium since the start of the 2006 season but have lost seven of their last 10 against Kansas City at home.
Nate Robertson (7-11) gave up six runs, six hits and four walks in 4 1/3 innings, his shortest outing since June 5. Robertson is 1-5 in his past eight starts.
Magglio Ordonez went 4-for-5 and is hitting .404 in August. Detroit, which outhit the Royals 16-6, stranded 13 runners, including 10 when Bannister was pitching. The Tigers grounded into two double plays went 4-for-15 with runners in scoring position.
"We got a lot of hits, and they got timely hits," Leyland said. "We get 16 hits and didn't take advantage of a lot of opportunities. When we get 16 hits, normally a couple go over the fence."
Bannister (11-7) leads AL rookies with a 3.27 ERA and his victories are the most by a Royals rookie starter since Kevin Appier won 12 games in 1990. Bannister gave up two runs and 11 hits in six innings, striking out five and walking one. He is 6-1 with a 2.31 ERA in his past eight starts.
"It had a playoff atmosphere," Bannister said. "You could cut the tension with a knife. They forced my hand and put me in tough spots where for several innings I had to make do-or-die pitches. They are right up there with Boston, New York and Seattle as being the toughest lineups out there. They are just so well put together. You don't have much room to breath out there."
After a 10-pitch walk by John Buck loaded the bases with two outs in the fourth, Gordon put the Royals ahead 3-0 with his double.
"They've got a lot to play for and we do to," Gordon said. "Hopefully, we'll make it an interesting race in the Central."
Curtis Granderson hit an RBI double in the fifth, when the Ivan Rodriguez hit into an inning-ending forceout with the bases loaded.
Billy Butler hit a two-run homer in the bottom half following Mark Grudzielanek's RBI single for a 6-1 lead.
Placido Polanco, who had three hits, singled home Sean Casey in the sixth. Carlos Guillen had a sacrifice fly in the ninth.
"We were living on the edge all night long," Royals manager Buddy Bell said. "It's nice to see somebody else hit into double plays."
Esteban German started in left field for the fourth time this season for the Royals. He has also started at third base, second base, shortstop and DH. ... Tigers 3B Brandon Inge struck out twice, raising his AL-leading total to 132. ... Gordon's double was the first of his career in eight at-bats with the bases loaded.