Royals

Royals beat the Twins, are eliminated from the playoffs after Baltimore beats Toronto

Kansas City Royals’ Billy Burns scored under the throw to Minnesota Twins catcher John Ryan Murphy on a two-run single by Alex Gordon in the eighth inning Wednesday night at Kauffman Stadium.
Kansas City Royals’ Billy Burns scored under the throw to Minnesota Twins catcher John Ryan Murphy on a two-run single by Alex Gordon in the eighth inning Wednesday night at Kauffman Stadium. jsleezer@kcstar.com

On average, it takes major-league pitchers 12 to 14 months to return from Tommy John surgery, a grueling, mind-numbing rehab that tests a man’s body and mind. The procedure to prepare the ulnar collateral ligament in the elbow joint is a miracle of modern medicine, but it is not without risks. There are steps to take, phases to complete, and the most important asset of all is time.

In the end, it took left-hander Jason Vargas just 13 months to climb back on a major-league mound after undergoing surgery last July. The return wasn’t quick enough to tip the scales in a Royals season that will end before the playoffs for the first time since 2013. But after three promising starts this September, Vargas appears primed for a return to the rotation in 2017.

“I was able to step up under the lights and get out there for real,” Vargas said.

That was one takeaway from the Royals’ 5-2 victory over the Twins on Wednesday, a performance that included a three-run burst in the bottom of the eighth and Kansas City’s 81st victory of the year. The win, of course, was bittersweet. In five scoreless innings, Vargas allowed just four hits, lowering his ERA to 2.25 in 12 innings across three starts this month. He has struck out 11, walked just three and cemented his spot in the rotation in 2017.

But as the Royals finished off a victory, the Baltimore Orioles came back against the Blue Jays in Toronto, registering their 86th victory and officially eliminating Kansas City from the playoff race.

One year after claiming their second World Series on a November night in New York, the Royals’ world championship title defense officially came to an end at just after 9:12 p.m. on Wednesday. Inside the Royals clubhouse, it was time to reflect.

“It’s great that we have a .500, winning season, but after the last two years, that’s not what we’re trying to do,” left fielder Alex Gordon said. “We have confidence in this room that we can get back to where we were. And that’s our main objective.

“We thought we could do it this year; unfortunately, it didn’t work out. But I think with a full offseason of getting guys fresh, getting guys back, like Vargas, what you saw tonight, it’s going to be a fun year next year.”

In 2016, the Royals were crippled by injuries, fatigue and a bullpen that too often became flammable at the back end. Yet through all the adversity, including serious injuries to Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain and Alex Gordon, the Royals were in solid position for an American League wild-card spot when the month began.

“The team hasn't lost the fight at all,” said first baseman Eric Hosmer, who opened the scoring with a two-run homer. “It just didn't work out for us this year. A lot of ups and downs, a lot of injuries. But I do think there's a lot of positives to take from this year, guys like Whit (Merrifield) and Cheslor (Cuthbert) coming up, making a name for themselves and proving what they can do at this level. I really think it gives us a lot of enthusiasm moving into this year.”

On Wednesday, that feeling was channeled in the eighth inning. Jarrod Dyson sparked a rally with a one-out double. Kendrys Morales broke a 2-2 tie with a ground-rule double down the right field line. Alex Gordon stretched the lead to 5-2 with a two-run single. And just like that, the Royals had secured another victory over the woeful Twins.

Still working on a pitch count, Vargas had departed after throwing 87 pitches across five innings. Rookie reliever Kevin McCarthy entered in the sixth and recorded two outs before allowing a single and a game-tying two-run blast to Twins first baseman Kennys Vargas.

When Vargas’ homer splashed down into the fountains in the bottom of the sixth, the Twins had knotted the game at 2-2 and snapped a streak of 106 straight innings without scoring more than one run. The stretch had lasted the equivalent of nearly 12 games and included nine losses in 12 days.

Moments after the homer, McCarthy issued two walks, putting two men on with two outs. But Royals manager Ned Yost called on right-hander Peter Moylan, who escaped the jam.

Left-handed reliever Matt Strahm took the baton in the eighth before the maligned Joakim Soria was forced into action in the eighth. Because Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis had thrown three of the last four days, and because the Royals had gone 11 innings on Tuesday night, Yost’s bullpen was left thin and vulnerable at the back end. But Soria came through, allowing just one broken-bat single while working a scoreless eighth inning. It was his fourth scoreless appearance in his last five.

After the Royals scored three runs in the bottom of the eighth, closer Wade Davis slammed the door in the ninth. And with one more victory, the club can clinch its fourth straight winning season. Here in Kansas City, the feat hasn’t been accomplished since 1980. Yet there was an empty feeling here on Wednesday night.

There will be no playoff baseball games at Kauffman Stadium this year, no champagne celebrations or American League pennants. For that reason, a clubhouse full of players will look forward to 2017. The next run is just months away from beginning next February.

“We’re not trying to play for a .500 or winning season,” Gordon said. “We’re trying to make the playoffs and do what we’ve done the last two years … we’ve got some work to do.”

Royals 5, Twins 2

Minnesota

AB

R

H

BI

W

K

Avg.

Dozier 2b

5

0

0

0

0

3

.270

Polanco ss

4

0

0

0

0

2

.275

Grossman lf

4

0

1

0

0

1

.279

Sano dh

3

1

1

0

1

0

.238

K.Vargas 1b

4

1

1

2

0

1

.244

1-Beresford pr-1b

0

0

0

0

0

0

.222

Kepler rf

3

0

1

0

1

1

.234

E.Escobar 3b

3

0

1

0

1

0

.240

Murphy c

4

0

2

0

0

0

.155

Buxton cf

4

0

1

0

0

2

.218

Totals

34

2

8

2

3

10

Kansas City

AB

R

H

BI

W

K

Avg.

Dyson cf

4

2

2

0

0

0

.268

Merrifield 2b

3

1

0

0

1

0

.284

Hosmer 1b

4

1

1

2

0

0

.268

Morales dh

4

0

1

1

0

0

.266

2-Burns pr-dh

0

1

0

0

0

0

.250

Perez c

3

0

0

0

1

0

.245

Gordon lf

4

0

2

2

0

2

.224

Orlando rf

3

0

2

0

1

0

.301

A.Escobar ss

4

0

0

0

0

1

.263

Cuthbert 3b

3

0

0

0

0

1

.278

Totals

32

5

8

5

3

4

Minnesota

000

002

000

2

8

1

Kansas City

002

000

03x

5

8

0

1-ran for K.Vargas in the 8th. 2-ran for Morales in the 8th.

E: Polanco (15). LOB: Minnesota 8, Kansas City 6. 2B: Kepler (19), Murphy 2 (3), Dyson (12), Morales (23). HR: K.Vargas (9), off McCarthy; Hosmer (25), off Santana. RBIs: K.Vargas 2 (19), Hosmer 2 (103), Morales (93), Gordon 2 (40). SB: Kepler (6), Dyson (29). CS: E.Escobar (3).

Runners left in scoring position: Minnesota 4 (Dozier 2, E.Escobar, Murphy); Kansas City 2 (A.Escobar 2). RISP: Minnesota 1 for 6; Kansas City 3 for 6. GIDP: A.Escobar. DP: Minnesota 1 (E.Escobar, Dozier, K.Vargas).

Minnesota

IP

H

R

ER

W

K

ERA

Santana

5

4

2

2

1

3

3.38

Boshers

1.1

0

0

0

0

1

4.33

Wimmers

1

0

0

0

0

0

4.32

Rogers L, 3-1

0.1

3

3

3

2

0

3.88

Chargois

0.1

1

0

0

0

0

4.91

Kansas City

IP

H

R

ER

W

K

ERA

J.Vargas

5

4

0

0

1

6

2.25

McCarthy

0.2

2

2

2

2

1

7.04

Moylan

0.1

0

0

0

0

0

3.42

Strahm

1

0

0

0

0

2

1.31

Soria W, 5-8

1

1

0

0

0

1

4.07

Davis S, 27

1

1

0

0

0

0

1.91

Blown save: McCarthy (1). Inherited runners-scored: Chargois 2-0, Moylan 2-0. IBB: off Rogers (Perez).

Umpires: Home, Ramon De Jesus; First, Mike Winters; Second, Todd Tichenor; Third, Mike Muchlinski. Time: 2:58. Att: 23,437.

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