The potential tying run was on third with one out in the fifth inning, and Justin Verlander was suddenly in pain.
A routine throw back to the pitcher had gone array, and the Detroit ace hurt his non-throwing shoulder lunging to stop it.
It looked like the kind of freakish bad break the Tigers could ill afford.
"With a guy on third and the ball coming back on the ground, I've got to try to stop it," Verlander said. "So I went down to get it, and my body just wasn't prepared for that. All my weight landed on my left arm, and just kind of jarred my shoulder a little bit. I felt it for a little bit and then it went away."
Verlander was able to stay in the game, and not only did he pitch out of that jam, but he went eight innings to help Detroit beat the Kansas City Royals 6-2 on Monday night. The Tigers remained a game behind the AL Central-leading Chicago White Sox, who beat Cleveland 5-4.
The Tigers were swept in a doubleheader by Minnesota on Sunday but steadied themselves behind their top pitcher. Verlander (16-8) had little trouble with the Royals, who knocked him around for eight runs and 12 hits last month. The right-hander allowed two runs and nine hits this time, striking out eight without a walk.
Jose Valverde pitched the ninth. Verlander threw 114 pitches, 89 for strikes. "He just threw strike after strike after strike. There's not much you can do when he's throwing like that," Royals manager Ned Yost said.
"We had a couple good at-bats against him, but he was extremely good tonight. You just need to get lucky when he's going that well, and we didn't."
Luke Hochevar (8-15) yielded six runs -- five earned -- and 12 hits in 7 1/3 innings. Alex Gordon homered for Kansas City. The Tigers play three more games at home against the Royals before finishing the regular season with a six-game trip to Minnesota and Kansas City.
Prince Fielder hit a solo homer for Detroit in the second, and Alex Avila added an RBI double later in the inning. Gordon's 12th home run in the fourth cut the lead in half, and the Royals appeared poised to tie it in the fifth when they put runners on first and third with one out.
With Jarrod Dyson batting, Verlander hurt his shoulder in bizarre fashion. Avila, the catcher, was making a routine throw back to the pitcher when his arm collided with the hand of plate umpire Bill Welke, causing the ball to scoot low across the ground in front of the mound.
Verlander lunged to stop it and grimaced as he got up. "I gave myself a little bit of a scare -- and everybody else," Verlander said. "But it's my left arm. Maybe I can throw with it just dangling. Who knows?"
He struck out Dyson and Alcides Escobar to end the threat. The Tigers padded their lead in the bottom half with another wacky play. With runners on first and second, Austin Jackson hit an RBI double down the right-field line, and another run came home when Jeff Francoeur's throw to second skipped away for an error.
Gordon, the left fielder, retrieved the ball and easily threw out Jackson trying to advance to third -- earning an assist on a play that began on the opposite side of the outfield. "We try to entertain everybody," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "We try to give everybody a good piece of entertainment."
Andy Dirks made it 5-1 with an RBI single in the sixth. Billy Butler had three hits for the Royals, including an RBI single in the eighth. He's hitting .396 (21 for 53) off Verlander. Dirks answered with another RBI single of his own.
Miguel Cabrera singled to extend his hitting streak to 14 games, but the Detroit slugger no longer leads the American League in home runs. He fell behind Josh Hamilton of Texas, meaning Cabrera will need to make up ground in his Triple Crown chase.
Leyland won his 600th game as Detroit's manager. ... Verlander took over the major league lead with 231 strikeouts, three more than teammate Max Scherzer. ... Hochevar allowed nine runs in four innings against the Tigers on May 1. ... Detroit RHP Anibal Sanchez (3-6) faces Kansas City LHP Bruce Chen (11-12) on Tuesday night.