DETROIT -- Marcus Thames turned a logical decision into a costly one.
"It was definitely the right move -- it just didn't work out," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said.
Cabrera hit a 424-foot shot to left in the first, leading to manager Trey Hillman's call to play the percentages to help Bruce Chen's chances to get out of the fifth.
"Cabrera had already hit one, so we walked him to get to Marcus because Chen had had better success with him," Hillman said. "But he left another pitch up."
Verlander (9-4) also left some pitches up, but his blazing fastballs had the Royals swinging and missing often.
He struck out 11 to run his baseball-best total to 141, the most by a Detroit pitcher before the All-Star Game in 37 years. He gave up five runs -- three earned -- and seven hits over six innings.
"I don't try to strike everybody out," Verlander insisted.
The last Tiger to have as many strikeouts as Verlander before the break was Mickey Lolich, who had 152 before the 1972 All-Star Game.
Verlander, though, got into some trouble against the Royals by giving up leadoff singles in the first two innings and allowing David DeJesus' bases-clearing double in the second that gave Kansas City a 3-1 lead.
"He was shaky early, but he settled in," Leyland said. "I was pretty nervous after the first couple of innings."
A night after Leyland lamented how poorly his team was hitting, the Tigers had plenty of stars at the plate.
Cabrera hit his 17th homer, Polanco had a season-high four RBI and Thames went deep for the third time in four games.
Unlike the previous game in which Detroit's bullpen blew a lead, three relievers combined for two scoreless innings to set up Fernando Rodney's 18th save in 18 chances and 21st in a row dating to last season.
"You don't take it for granted because we've seen what it's like when you don't have somebody at the end to shut it down," Verlander said. "It's no fluke."
Billy Butler hit a solo drive in the sixth for Kansas City. Chen (0-3) allowed seven runs -- all but one on three homers -- in 4 2/3 innings.
"That's five homers in three starts," Hillman said. "And, four of them have been on the same pitch -- a changeup that he leaves up.
"When you keep making the same mistakes on the same pitch, you need to make some kind of adjustment."
"I've got to do a better job of concentrating on getting the ball down," he said. "I felt pretty strong until the fifth, but that inning just got away from me, and the three-run homer buried me."
- Kansas City RF Jose Guillen left in the sixth with tightness in his legs.
- Royals OF Mitch Maier did not play after getting banged up in a collision with Guillen in the outfield Monday night.
- Detroit RHP Jeremy Bonderman, who has been on the DL since June 9, has taken a step in his recovery by throwing 60 feet. "I'm moving up in the world," Bonderman joked. He missed most of last season and the first two months this year while recovering from surgery to correct a blood vessel restriction in his shoulder, and the problem flared up again last month.
- CF Ryan Freel was 1 for 3 in his Royals debut.
- The Tigers plan to recall OF Clete Thomas from Triple-A Toledo in time to put him in Wednesday's lineup and designate OF Don Kelley for assignment.