Royals

Jason Vargas delivers Royals’ best effort in series by starter

Royals starting pitcher Jason Vargas received a standing ovation from fans after being pulled in the sixth inning against the Baltimore Orioles on Wednesday at Kauffman Stadium.
Royals starting pitcher Jason Vargas received a standing ovation from fans after being pulled in the sixth inning against the Baltimore Orioles on Wednesday at Kauffman Stadium. The Kansas City Star

If he said it once, Jason Vargas said it a half-dozen time, how it felt to be the winning pitcher in a 2-1 victory over the Orioles that gave the American League pennant to the Royals.

“It’s everything I imagined it to be,” Vargas said.

He said that or something like it while standing on the Kauffman Stadium turf, amid a swirl of teammates, family, team officials and reporters.

He repeated it in the clubhouse through the haze of champagne and beer spray, his commemorative T-shirt soaked with victory.

“When you’re a kid and you pitch, this is what you dream about, getting the ball for a chance like this,” he said.

Vargas maxed out on his opportunity. He carried into the game some pressure. After all, this was his first American League Championship Series start, and his first in the playoffs since pitching six effective innings in a no-decision in the division series against the Angels.

The longest layoff of his career wouldn’t be a problem, Vargas said the previous day. He’d be ready, and although staff ace James Shields was available on regular rest on Wednesday, manager Ned Yost wanted Vargas for this occasion.

Had the Royals lost one of the first two games in Baltimore, Yost might have set up pitching differently than Jeremy Guthrie in Game 3 and Vargas on Wednesday.

But with a 2-0 series lead when the series returned to Kauffman Stadium, Yost had some flexibility, and both pitchers delivered in a big way. Guthrie turned over a 1-1 game after five innings on Tuesday that the Royals won 2-1.

Vargas had a 2-1 lead when he left the game with one out in the sixth, after throwing 73 pitches and striking out six. His line was the best of any of the Royals starters in the four games.

And there was this nugget: Vargas became the fifth pitcher in postseason history with at least two starts and a minimum of 10 innings pitched to allow five or fewer hits in both starts. Among the others to accomplish the feat: the Yankees’ Don Larsen in his World Series perfect game year of 1956 and the Red Sox’s Pedro Martinez in 1999.

Vargas allowed two hits against the Orioles and three the previous week against the Angels.

The Royals got their runs in the first, and Vargas never pitched with a deficit.

The only mistake was issued to Ryan Flaherty, who turned on a Vargas inside offering and curled it around the right-field foul pole leading off the third inning.

Otherwise, Vargas rarely found trouble. His seven-pitch first inning set the tone.

“He could have gone longer,” Royals relief specialist Wade Davis said. “He looked like he was in total control.”

Defense, as it always does for the Royals, delivered. Wednesday’s highlight was Alex Gordon’s slam into the wall after a running catch on a drive by J.J. Hardy opening the fifth. Vargas joined his teammates in a cap-tip.

Then he joined them in a postgame celebration with a caveat.

“I can’t imagine this being any better,” Vargas said. Then he stopped himself.

“Yes, I can imagine it. Doing this once more.”

To reach Blair Kerkhoff, call 816-234-4730 or send email to bkerkhoff@kcstar.com.

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