It’s mid-May, and Jason Vargas, ERA wise, is the best pitcher in the American League. On Thursday afternoon, he fired seven more shutout innings, lowering his ERA to a microscopic 1.01.
Vargas was near flawless in a 6-0 win for the Royals, giving Kansas City its first series victory since April 16. By taking three out of four from Tampa Bay this week, the Royals are now 28-9 against the Rays since 2012.
On an afternoon full of Ryan Lefebvre and Rex Hudler’s finest excuses, the Royals were getting solid swings off Jake Odorizzi all game long but had little to show for it. All year, we’ve heard the Fox Sports Kansas City team rush to make excuses for the team, screaming “bad luck” every time a decently-struck ball doesn’t drop in for a hit.
But on Thursday, they were right. The Royals logged four lineouts in the first three innings. Jorge Soler cranked a deep blast to left-center field, but after traveling 411 feet in the air, the ball died on the warning track for a flyout. Oh, and Eric Hosmer lost a home run when Corey Dickerson reached over the short left-field fence and pulled his drive back.
The only offense either team could muster in the first seven innings was Whit Merrifield’s solo home run in the fourth, which was absolutely cranked. Merrifield’s third bomb of the year completely cleared the left-field bleachers, landing on the tarp behind them with a loud thud.
Vargas dueled with Odorizzi for most of the game, but in the eighth inning, the Royals offense busted out against the Tampa Bay bullpen.
Alcides Escobar singled. Mike Moustakas walked. Eric Hosmer grounded out as the runners moved up a base, and Salvador Perez shot a double down the left field line that scored both runs. 3-0, Royals.
Jorge Bonifacio followed that with an almost-identical shot, an RBI double down the line in left to make it 4-0. And then Merrifield shot a single back up the middle to score Bonifacio, but for the second time in four days, the ball got past Kevin Kiermaier and rolled all the way to the wall. Merrifield circled the bases and scored on a little-league homer.
Kiermaier, who won a gold glove in center field last year, made three errors in the series. Even the best have days (or series) like this.
Vargas allowed three hits in seven innings. He struck out four and walked one, needing 96 pitches to record 21 outs. He earned the win, improving his record to 5-1. Considering the Royals only have 13 wins as a team, it’s kind of amazing that he already has five personal wins.
As for Odorizzi, one of the four prospects shipped from Kansas City to Tampa Bay in 2012 for James Shields and Wade Davis, he pitched well for the most part. He did have some good fortune, as a handful of his outs were hit well right at defenders. He allowed four hits and one run in six innings, fanning four in the process. The Tampa bullpen allowed five runs in the seventh and eighth innings, dooming any chances for a Rays comeback.
Matt Strahm and Al Alburquerque, making his Royals debut, handled the eighth and ninth innings to close out the win.
The Royals are 13-21. Later today, they will fly home to Kansas City fresh off their first series victory in nearly a month.
Up next: a seven-game home stand begins tomorrow when the Royals host the AL East-leading Baltimore Orioles. Danny Duffy (2-3, 3.50 ERA), who is due to have things go right during a start, will oppose Chris Tillman (1-0, 0.00).