The Royals beat the Tigers 2-1 on Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017, at Kauffman Stadium behind a dominant six-inning performance from starter Jason Vargas. But they were eliminated from the wild-card race when the Twins beat the Indians. Maria Torres The Kansas City Star
The Royals beat the Tigers 2-1 on Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017, at Kauffman Stadium behind a dominant six-inning performance from starter Jason Vargas. But they were eliminated from the wild-card race when the Twins beat the Indians. Maria Torres The Kansas City Star

Kansas City Royals

Royals still see something to fight for after being eliminated from playoff contention

By Maria Torres

mtorres@kcstar.com

September 26, 2017 09:59 PM

UPDATED September 27, 2017 03:21 PM

About two months ago, Royals starter Danny Duffy ordered a giant version of the tabletop game Connect Four.

Back then, the Royals had become buyers at the trade deadline. They were only a few games behind the Cleveland Indians for the lead in the American League Central. They appeared poised for their third appearance in the playoffs in four years.

Duffy hoped the game would arrive at Kauffman Stadium by October so he could provide his teammates with a way to relieve the ever-mounting stress of a postseason chase.

The package indeed made it to Kansas City by the time the Royals returned for their final home stand of the season.

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But as the calendar flipped toward the end of September, the Royals lost the opportunity to debut the game in a champagne-induced haze. Despite starter Jason Vargas dominating the Tigers in a 2-1 victory here, the Royals were eliminated from the wild-card race on Tuesday. The second-place Twins had defeated the Indians 8-6.

“I mean, any time when you have that adrenaline of a World Series, and you realize that you are capable of doing it, it’s an enormous letdown when you don’t get that far,” Duffy said before the game. “But 29 teams don’t get that far every year. But we just gotta take everything and put it in perspective and remember what we’ve done, remember what we’ve had.”

What the Royals had Tuesday was Vargas in first-half form for a fourth consecutive start. He allowed just one walk, conceded one run and scattered five hits over six innings. He induced three double plays. He won his 18th game of the year, matching Clayton Kershaw and Corey Kluber for most in the major leagues.

The only costly knock against Vargas came off the bat of Ian Kinsler, who went 2 for 3 against him, including a two-out RBI single in the third.

For an aging pitcher on the cusp of free agency, a veteran who struggled to return to form after the All-Star break, the victory provided some relief.

“To see some light at the end of the tunnel with the way things have turned around here at the end has been great,” said Vargas, who owns a 2.01 ERA in his last 22  1/3 innings.

Vargas will have one more chance to add to his career-high win total on Sunday, when he is scheduled to start the season finale against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

“He’s surprisingly strong,” Royals manager Ned Yost said.

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The Royals’ offense wasn’t nearly as efficient. Tigers starter Anibal Sanchez struck out six and allowed seven hits in six innings. One of them was Eric Hosmer’s single that landed inches in front of left fielder Alex Presley. It was the 189th hit of Hosmer’s season. The blooper drove in Whit Merrifield, who’d hit a leadoff double and moved to third on a Lorenzo Cain ground ball, to tie the game in the fourth inning.

Merrifield drove in Brandon Moss for the go-ahead run on a sacrifice fly to right field in the fifth inning.

It was all the offense the Royals would need, as relievers Kelvin Herrera, Joakim Soria and Mike Minor provided three scoreless innings.

Afterward, a strobe light pulsed in the clubhouse after the game. Towels covered computer monitors in a tell-tale sign of postgame merriment.

Even as they dropped out of playoff contention for the second year in a row, there was enough reason to celebrate. The Royals improved to 77-80 with five games remaining in this see-saw of a 2017 season. A .500 record is still within grasp.

“We did all we can do,” Hosmer said. “We were in it at the break, and we tried to get some pieces to help us out. Really, no regrets. Everyone that works for this organization put this team in the best possible position to win, and that’s all you can ask for.”

It may not be the World Series run the beloved championship core of players had dreamed of — but it was something nonetheless.

“Just finishing on a high note I think was what we ultimately thought about doing,” Duffy said. “There’s no clear definition for that. Success is a relative term. The ultimate is winning a World Series. It would have been cool to go out like that.”

Royals 2, Tigers 1

Detroit

AB

R

H

BI

BB

SO

Avg.

Kinsler 2b

4

0

2

1

0

0

.238

Iglesias ss

4

0

0

0

0

2

.258

Castellanos rf

3

0

1

0

0

1

.271

Candelario 3b

3

0

1

0

0

1

.295

McCann c

3

0

0

0

0

0

.253

Hicks dh

2

0

0

0

1

1

.269

Navarro 1b

3

0

1

0

0

0

.239

Jones cf

2

1

0

0

1

1

.156

Presley lf

3

0

1

0

0

1

.317

Totals

27

1

6

1

2

7

Kansas City

AB

R

H

BI

BB

SO

Avg.

Merrifield 2b

3

1

1

1

0

0

.286

Cain cf

4

0

2

0

0

0

.302

Cabrera rf

4

0

0

0

0

0

.288

Orlando rf

0

0

0

0

0

0

.158

Hosmer dh

4

0

1

1

0

2

.320

Perez c

2

0

0

0

1

0

.268

Moustakas 3b

3

0

1

0

0

1

.272

Moss 1b

3

1

1

0

0

1

.211

Escobar ss

3

0

1

0

0

2

.250

Gordon lf

2

0

1

0

1

1

.211

Totals

28

2

8

2

2

7

Detroit

001

000

000

1

6

0

Kansas City

000

110

00x

2

8

0

LOB: Detroit 1, Kansas City 5. 2B: Merrifield (32), Hosmer (31). RBIs: Kinsler (52), Merrifield (77), Hosmer (92). SB: Jones (5). CS: Kinsler (5), Merrifield (6), Escobar (7). SF: Merrifield.

Runners left in scoring position: Kansas City 3 (Cabrera 2, Moustakas). RISP: Detroit 1 for 2; Kansas City 1 for 5. Runners moved up: Cain. GIDP: Kinsler, Candelario, McCann, Navarro, Jones, Hosmer. DP: Detroit 2 (McCann, Iglesias), (Kinsler, Iglesias, Navarro); Kansas City 5 (Moustakas, Merrifield, Moss), (Merrifield, Escobar, Moss), (Moustakas, Merrifield, Moss), (Moss, Escobar, Soria), (Escobar, Merrifield, Moss).

Detroit

IP

H

R

ER

BB

SO

NP

ERA

Sanchez, L, 3-6

6

7

2

2

1

6

98

6.46

VerHagen

1

0

0

0

1

1

14

5.34

Stumpf

1

1

0

0

0

0

13

3.82

Kansas City

IP

H

R

ER

BB

SO

NP

ERA

Vargas, W, 18-10

6

5

1

1

1

3

82

3.94

Herrera

1

0

0

0

0

2

13

4.40

Soria

1

0

0

0

1

1

16

3.67

Minor, S, 3

1

1

0

0

0

1

11

2.64

Holds: Herrera (3), Soria (18). WP: Sanchez.

Umpires: Home, Laz Diaz; First, D.J. Reyburn; Second, Greg Gibson; Third, Jim Wolf. Time: 2:31. Att: 20,613.