Mike Moustakas breaks the Royals home run record: Here are all 37

Relive each of Mike Moustakas' 37 home runs this season (so far). On Wednesday night in Toronto, the Royals third baseman broke Steve Balboni's single-season franchise record set in 1985.
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Relive each of Mike Moustakas' 37 home runs this season (so far). On Wednesday night in Toronto, the Royals third baseman broke Steve Balboni's single-season franchise record set in 1985.
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Kansas City Royals

Royals shut out the Blue Jays 1-0. Is there still a path to the wild card?

By Rustin Dodd

rdodd@kcstar.com

September 21, 2017 08:56 PM

TORONTO

The Royals have remained on the fringes of the American League wild-card race despite a precipitous decline in the months of August and September.

That will not change after starter Jason Vargas shouldered the load on Thursday in a 1-0 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre. What did change, however, was the math needed to chase down the Minnesota Twins in the scrum for a final playoff spot.

The Royals (75-77) won a series as Vargas rekindled his magic from the first half. The Twins pounded the Tigers in Detroit. With 10 games remaining, Kansas City remained 3 1/2 games out of the final playoff spot entering a three-game series on the South Side of Chicago.

“We just won two in a row,” Vargas said, after tossing 6 1/3 scoreless innings. “So that means we’re in a better spot than we were two days ago.”

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That was true in a literal sense, at least as far as the standings were concerned. Yet the Royals now find themselves in a race against time. In the final 10 days of the season, they must make up 3  1/2 games on the Twins and pass two other teams. As he sat in his office in the moments after the victory, Royals manager Ned Yost said he was not scoreboard watching.

“In a 1-0 game,” he said, “you’re not doing nothing but focusing on your game.”

At this point, we can acknowledge the unlikelihood of a final run. But somehow, the Royals had entered a series finale in Toronto on Thursday with a mathematical path despite recording a 9-10 record in September and losing eight of their last 13. Somehow, only the Rangers and Angels sat between the Royals and Minnesota.

The playoff projections on Thursday morning at FanGraphs gave the Royals just a 5.1 percent chance to claim the final playoff spot. Somehow, after a 10-18 record in August and a middling September, that felt like reasonable odds.

“The goal for everybody is just to keep pressing forward and keep playing good baseball,” Vargas said. “That’s all we can control.”

A cast of mediocre teams playing to form in a crowded wild-card race has delayed the Royals’ final breaths. On Thursday, Vargas took the mound against a last-place team in Toronto and secured a first series victory in three tries, outdueling Toronto’s J.A. Happ and prolonging his mini resurgence in the month of September.

Mike Minor earned his second save in the ninth, finishing off Kansas City’s first shutout since June 2 in Cleveland. In nine innings, a collection of five pitchers did not allow a Blue Jays base runner to reach second base. Minor, a free agent after the season, looked like a potential closer.

“Everybody that stepped out there did their job quite admirably,” Yost said.

By the end, you could think about playoff scenarios and tiebreakers and let the mind wander. OK, just a little bit.

Once in the midst of a futile second half, Vargas lasted more than six innings for the first time since June 30. He yielded just two hits and three walks while improving to 17-10 with a 4.03 ERA.

Vargas did not possess his sharpest stuff in the early innings, he said. Yet he evaded damage and pitched around walks to Josh Donaldson and Justin Smoak.

“The overall results were really good,” Vargas said. “There were some pitches that I got away with in the first and second inning. Just some kind of uncompetitive at-bats that I weaseled out of. I didn’t make very good pitches.”

After the third inning, he seized control, taking advantage of an extra day of rest after his last outing. In his last three starts, he is 3-0 while allowing four earned runs in 16 1/3 innings.

By the time Vargas exited for reliever Peter Moylan in the seventh, he had become the first Royals starting pitcher to log six starts of at least six scoreless innings since Zack Greinke during his Cy Young season in 2009.

The performance was necessary as the offense scuffled against Happ. Melky Cabrera finished 3 for 4 and provided a two-out RBI single in the third. And yes, that was it.

The bullpen locked down the victory in the late innings. With reliever Scott Alexander unavailable due to fatigue — and perhaps out on Friday as well — Yost formulated a plan. Moylan would replace Vargas and pitch until the Blue Jays pinch hit a lefty. At that point, Ryan Buchter would take over, clearing the way for Joakim Soria in the eighth.

Soria breezed through his inning, logging his second scoreless appearance since returning from the disabled list. And Minor came on in the ninth, needing just six pitches to retire Donaldson, Smoak and Jose Bautista.

“I like the adrenalin rush,” Minor said. “Especially a close game like that. It means something.”

And now, the Royals hope it means something for the next 10 days.

Royals 1, Blue Jays 0

Royals

AB

R

H

BI

W

K

Avg.

Merrifield 2b

4

0

0

0

0

2

.288

Cain cf

4

0

2

0

0

0

.302

Cabrera rf

4

0

3

1

0

0

.288

Orlando rf

0

0

0

0

0

0

.167

Hosmer 1b

4

0

0

0

0

0

.320

Perez c

4

0

2

0

0

0

.266

Moustakas 3b

4

0

1

0

0

1

.275

Bonifacio dh

4

0

0

0

0

2

.249

Escobar ss

4

0

0

0

0

1

.249

Gordon lf

1

1

0

0

2

1

.210

Totals

33

1

8

1

2

7

Toronto

AB

R

H

BI

W

K

Avg.

Hernandez lf

3

0

0

0

0

2

.250

d-Lopez ph-c

1

0

0

0

0

0

.234

Donaldson 3b

3

0

0

0

1

1

.264

Smoak 1b

3

0

0

0

1

1

.275

Bautista rf

4

0

0

0

0

1

.203

Morales dh

3

0

1

0

0

1

.249

Pillar cf

3

0

0

0

0

1

.258

Barney 2b

1

0

1

0

1

0

.237

a-Saunders ph

0

0

0

0

0

0

.208

b-Refsnyder ph

1

0

0

0

0

0

.173

Goins 2b

0

0

0

0

0

0

.228

Maile c

2

0

0

0

0

1

.136

c-Carrera ph-lf

1

0

0

0

0

1

.283

Urena ss

3

0

0

0

0

1

.224

Totals

28

0

2

0

3

10

Royals

001

000

000

1

8

0

Toronto

000

000

000

0

2

1

a-pinch hit for Barney in the 7th. b-lined out for Saunders in the 7th. c-struck out for Maile in the 8th. d-grounded out for Hernandez in the 8th.

E: Donaldson (14). LOB: Kansas City 7, Toronto 4. RBIs: Cabrera (82). CS: Cabrera (2).

Runners left in scoring position: Kansas City 2 (Merrifield, Bonifacio). RISP: Kansas City 1 for 6. Runners moved up: Moustakas. GIDP: Perez, Moustakas, Pillar. DP: Kansas City 1 (Escobar, Merrifield, Hosmer); Toronto 2 (Barney, Urena, Smoak), (Urena, Barney, Smoak).

Royals

I

H

R

ER

W

K

P

ERA

Vargas W, 17-10

6.1

2

0

0

3

7

86

4.03

Moylan

0.1

0

0

0

0

0

2

3.67

Buchter

0.1

0

0

0

0

0

4

3.08

Soria

1

0

0

0

0

2

15

3.81

Minor S, 2

1

0

0

0

0

1

6

2.68

Toronto

I

H

R

ER

W

K

P

ERA

Happ, L, 9-11

6.2

7

1

1

2

6

108

3.64

Leone

1

0

0

0

0

0

11

2.49

Dermody

0.1

0

0

0

0

0

2

3.92

Tepera

1

1

0

0

0

1

19

3.45

Holds: Moylan (22), Buchter (19), Soria (17). Inherited runners-scored: Leone 2-0.

Umpires: Home, Ben May; First, Pat Hoberg; Second, Joe West; Third, Mark Wegner. Time: 2:39. Att: 35,861.