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Anxiety turns to laughs as Tigers hold on for 'W'

Ball bounces off Martin's head for run-scoring E in 9th before Greene nails down clutch save @beckjason

KANSAS CITY -- Leonys Martin could see the ball coming at him over and over again, through the late afternoon shadows at Kauffman Stadium.

"I don't want to make an excuse," he said. "I don't know what happened. … I lost the ball."

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KANSAS CITY -- Leonys Martin could see the ball coming at him over and over again, through the late afternoon shadows at Kauffman Stadium.

"I don't want to make an excuse," he said. "I don't know what happened. … I lost the ball."

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He wasn't reliving the play in his head -- which is what Alex Gordon's line drive bounced off of for a run-scoring error. The Tigers were replaying it for him.

Video: DET@KC: Duda scores as Martin loses ball in the sun

"Right away, we had to hook up the big TV, so we could watch it over and over again, just to see him get hit," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "It's great that we can laugh about it. It wasn't that much fun when we did it."

The Tigers can laugh because closer Shane Greene picked up his teammate, striking out Jon Jay with the potential tying run on third base, to end what looked like another late Royals rally in a 3-2 win Saturday.

Video: DET@KC: Greene strikes out the side to earn the save

They turned a "not again" moment into what could be the best laugh the Tigers have shared so far this season. What could have been a sour moment for the Tigers' bullpen became a sample of Detroit's late-inning relievers coming through in the clutch.

"I was honestly just hoping that we won the game," Gardenhire said, "so we could blast Martin with the TV and the whole package, more than anything else. We had a lot of fun with it."

Video: DET@KC: Martinez drives in Castellanos with a double

Oh, Gardenhire had some stress, too. His starter, Jordan Zimmermann, lasted five scoreless innings before running out of energy, drained by the flu bug that has been making its rounds through the Tigers' pitching staff this week. His offense put up three runs early against Royals starter Jason Hammel -- courtesy of first-inning RBI doubles from Nicholas Castellanos, Victor Martinez and John Hicks -- but struggled to add on. He had to cobble four innings out of his bullpen, and played matchup baseball in the eighth -- three relievers for three batters, including two young relievers bouncing back from a Royals comeback Friday night.

Video: DET@KC: Hicks lines a two-out RBI double to center

"[Daniel Stumpf] got a big out, and so did [Joe Jimenez]," Gardenhire said. "And that was huge, to get them back on the mound and get outs. So now they're feeling good about themselves. So a lot of good things happened. And at least we still have a center fielder."

Ah yes, that.

Four Tigers relievers combined to retire seven consecutive Royals and protect a 3-1 lead until Lucas Duda doubled into the right-field corner off Greene to lead off the ninth. Greene struck out Abraham Almonte, then put Gordon into an 0-2 hole before he hit a relatively soft line drive just left of center.

Martin had it tracked despite the shadows in the outfield. Then he missed it.

"I didn't touch the ball with the glove," Martin said. "I don't know what happened, man. At some point, I lost the ball. I don't know if it was the lights."

The ball bounced off his forehead -- with an 84.6 mph exit velocity according to Statcast™ -- and caromed into left field, sending Duda home and Gordon into second with the potential tying run.

"Man, that's a bad feeling," Martin said. "You got a game on the line like that, and to miss that play, that's a bad feeling. But Greeney picked me up and it was good."

Greene's response was simple.

"Gotta keep making pitches," he said.

It wasn't without further drama. Greene fanned Alcides Escobar, but missed Ryan Goins' two-out comebacker. The ball ricocheted to second baseman Dixon Machado, who had no play at first, but looked Gordon back to third.

"I pretty much closed my glove a little early, got excited," Greene said. "It hit off the top of my glove."

Again, Greene made pitches, starting off Jay with a 95-mph fastball and then burying a slider to finish him -- and the Royals rally -- off. The Tigers went back inside and put the replay on.

"Goodness gracious," Gardenhire said as he sighed.

A day after Stumpf retired just one of the three left-handed hitters he faced, he was able to produce an out against Mike Moustakas with one out and nobody on in the eighth. Stumpf threw a 2-2 slider well off the plate to strike him out. Jimenez followed by inducing a Salvador Perez popout to end the inning.

Video: DET@KC: Stumpf gets Moustakas swinging in the 8th

Zimmermann threw sliders with 30 of his 85 pitches, inducing eight swings-and-misses and all five of his strikeouts, including Moustakas with the bases loaded in the fifth.

Video: DET@KC: Zimmermann K's Moustakas, leaves bases loaded

Matthew Boyd (1-2, 2.48) will be part of a battery featuring catcher Grayson Greiner's Major League debut for Sunday's series finale against the Royals. Jakob Junis (3-2, 3.29), who has two wins against Detroit thanks to 15 innings of two-run ball against the Tigers this year, will try to earn a series win for the Royals. First pitch is scheduled for 2:15 p.m. ET at Kauffman Stadium.

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.

Detroit Tigers, Jordan Zimmermann