KANSAS CITY -- Pure and simple, it was Justin Verlander's game to win or lose.
Closer? Never mind. Verlander wanted to finish what he had started and Tigers manager Jim Leyland wasn't in a mood to object.
Leyland's trust in Verlander was ultimately rewarded on Monday night, when Verlander fired strike three past Alex Gordon with the bases loaded to preserve a 3-2 Tigers victory at Kauffman Stadium.
Verlander's 131st pitch was a labor of love for a competitor who wanted to make amends after losing a ninth inning two-run lead in his previous start against Tampa Bay.
"I had some demons to exorcise," Verlander said.
The demons disappeared with this complete-game victory as closer Jose Valverde looked on from the bullpen. Verlander told Leyland after the eighth inning he was fine to finish the game with a 3-1 lead, but the Royals hitters proved stubborn. With a run in and the bases loaded, it came down to Verlander versus Gordon.
"Skip can't win for losing," Verlander said. "He takes me out [in Verlander's first start] and we lose [the lead]. He leaves me in and we lose. And tonight, he'll get questioned about me throwing 130 pitches."
Those questions might have been louder if Gordon had come through. But all's well that ends well for Verlander.
"I wanted the ball," Verlander said. "I wanted to go back out there and shut those guys down. Obviously, it didn't go the way I would have liked. But when it came down to it, I made the pitch I needed to make."
Verlander is now 14-2 lifetime in 20 starts against the Royals. After 24 wins last year, getting No. 1 this year turned out to be an arduous task in the late going.
"It was pretty much an identical situation [to Tampa Bay], with a two-run lead in the ninth," Verlander said. "I told Skip, 'Sorry for getting your blood pressure up.'"
Leyland did visit the mound in the ninth, but said it was only to slow Verlander down.
The game was tied at 1-1 in the fifth when Brandon Inge delivered a two-run homer to right-center. It was Inge's first road homer since Oct. 3, 2010 at Baltimore.
"Fantastic," Verlander said. "I couldn't be happier. That guy is going to be out there giving everything he's possibly got to win a ballgame."
Austin Jackson also homered off Kansas City starter Danny Duffy, but the two homers were all the offense the Tigers could manage.
"He's got a great arm," Inge said. "He's going to be a good pitcher. He already is, but he'll be really good down the road."
Gordon said Verlander began to pound him inside on the make-or-break matchup in the ninth. The last pitch was in, and Gordon decided to take it.
"The last one, I guess, he just painted [the corner] inside," Gordon said. "Give him credit. He made a pitch when he had to."
Leyland mentioned that many of Verlander's pitches early in the game weren't high-stress deliveries.
"I told him, 'It's your game. I'm not coming out there to take you out,'" Leyland said. "'You're going to walk off the mound and you're either going to win it or lose it.' I didn't really want the pitch count to get as high as it did tonight, but he felt really comfortable. It wasn't like he was muscling up in the first inning."
Billy Butler started the ninth with a single, but Verlander got the next two hitters on groundouts. Then, Humberto Quintero singled in a run and Mitch Maier walked. When Alcides Escobar was hit by a pitch to load the bases, Verlander had stretched it to the max.
What did Leyland say when he came out to the mound for that ninth-inning conference?
"He said 'You're going to get me fired,'" Verlander said.
In the end, Verlander took care of team and personal business.
"The last out is the hardest to get in baseball," Verlander said. "You've got to have a lot of respect for those closers."
Robert Falkoff is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.