Martin Maldonado was as shocked as anyone by his tiebreaking homer in the seventh inning.
"No, I thought it was a pop-up," Maldonado said. "I've hit balls better than that and they've been caught, so I was happy to be rounding third base."
Maldonado hit a solo homer off Detroit reliever Blaine Hardy that snapped a 5-all tie. Then, Whit Merrifield doubled, stole third and scored on a wild pitch, and Jorge Soler added an insurance run with his 24th homer in the eighth inning as the Royals beat the Tigers 8-5.
Bubba Starling was hitless in his long-awaited major league debut for Kansas City, and the Royals lost starter Danny Duffy to a bruised pitching hand.
Starling, a three-sport star from nearby Gardner-Edgerton (Kan.) High School who was taken by the Royals in the first round of the 2011 draft, ended his 7 ½-year pilgrimage through the minors. He was greeted by a standing ovation from the crowd of 25,059. He walked in his first at-bat in the second inning and scored on a throwing error. He struck out and grounded out twice.
"It was really, really special," Starling said. "It kind of gave me goosebumps walking up to the box. I kind of settled in after that first at-bat but I definitely had nerves walking in there."
Playing center field, Starling tried for a diving catch of a sinking liner off the bat of Victor Reyes in the sixth inning, but it went off his glove for a run-scoring double.
"I thought I had a bead on it. Took a step back and then went in on it. But it hit the tip of my glove," Starling said.
Reyes had three hits and scored twice for the Tigers.
Reyes opened the Tigers' third with a liner off Duffy's left hand for a single. Duffy was examined by a trainer and, after a practice toss, stayed in the game. But the left-hander immediately struggled.
Duffy threw a wild pitch and then walked Nicholas Castellanos. Miguel Cabrera followed with a run-scoring single and Brandon Dixon lined an RBI double to right center to give the Tigers a 3-2 lead. Duffy was then pulled in favor of right-hander Jorge Lopez.
Duffy sustained a contusion of the left hand, but the Royals reported that X-rays were negative and his status is day to day.
"It got me kind of on the thumb pad," Duffy said. "It just went numb and if that's how your hand feels on the baseball, it's not going to work out too often. I hate coming out of the game but I'm really thankful with the way my guys picked me up."
The Tigers scored another run when first baseman Cheslor Cuthbert made an error on a sharp grounder by Jeimer Candelario. Lopez got out of the inning with a strikeout and a double play and worked three scoreless innings. In fact, five Royals relievers combined for seven innings and surrendered just three hits and one run.
"The bullpen came in and did a wonderful job," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "The bullpen was fantastic."
Cuthbert redeemed himself in the bottom half of the inning with a two-run homer off Tigers starter Spencer Turnbull, giving the Royals a 5-4 lead. The 400-foot blast to left followed a walk to Alex Gordon and an RBI double by Soler.
Turnbull, a rookie, was making his first appearance since June 27 due to shoulder fatigue. He made 56 pitches and worked just three innings, giving up five runs.
"It's a growing experience. He's a little confused right now, I'm sure," Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said. "They made him work, they got him early on some breaking balls. He went just three innings, but that's his first comeback after having the dead arm. His arm's fine, he's physically great. He was just out of gas. His legs were a little weak and he just kind of hit a wall."
Jake Newberry (1-0) picked up the win; Ian Kennedy struck out two and earned the save.
Hardy (1-1) allowed two hits and two earned runs with a strikeout in 2/3 of an inning for the loss.
DFA for Gore
To make room for Starling on the roster, the Royals designated fleet outfielder Terrance Gore for assignment. General manager Dayton Moore said he had this message for Gore: "We'll try to find you a contending team so you can do your thing in October." Moore said Gore has "made his mark by being an elite base stealer in some of the most high-pressure situations the game has to offer."
In 37 games this season, Gore batted .275 (14-for-51) and stole 13 bases in 18 attempts. The 27-year-old Gore appeared in the 2014-15 postseasons for the Royals and had four steals in five tries.
Perez on schedule
Catcher Salvador Perez, out for the season with Tommy John surgery, is due to test his right arm with some throwing by the end of the month, according to trainer Nick Kenney. "We wanted to get him at least to the 20-week mark to allow everything to set in," Kenney said. "He's right on schedule."
The Royals send RHP Brad Keller (4-9, 4.47 ERA) against the Tigers on Saturday night. The Tigers' starter is LHP Matthew Boyd (6-6, 3.87), who ranks third in the American League, averaging nearly 12 strikeouts per nine innings.