The Royals’ pitching has been superb all season long. Recently, it’s been so good that only a paraphrase of a popular Oprah Winfrey meme can put it into context:
“You get a complete game! And you get a complete game! Everybody gets a complete game!”
Jason Vargas fired the Royals’ third complete-game effort by a starting pitcher in the last seven days. After Jeremy Guthrie retired the final 19 Diamondbacks last Thursday night and James Shields hurled his first shutout as a Royal on Saturday, Vargas came through with arguably the best pitching performance by a Royal starter this season on Wednesday night.
The Royals (65-54) are now 4-2 against the A’s this year, who have the best record in baseball at 73-47. Kansas City is now 10-2 in August, and has not lost back-to-back games since July 27-28.
Vargas (9-5) came in to Wednesday having allowed nine runs in just 9.1 innings since returning from his appendectomy last month. The Royals claimed that it would take about two starts for him to get back to form, and in his third start post-surgery, he was nearly perfect.
After allowing three of the first six Oakland A’s to hit safely, Vargas retired the final 23 hitters he faced en route to a 97-pitch shutout. Superb command of all of his pitches kept the A’s guessing all night, similar to the way that Bruce Chen has performed at times for the Royals. Oakland’s hitters were constantly ahead of Vargas’ off-speed pitches, resulting in a high number of popups and shallow fly balls. Vargas struck out four and walked none in the complete-game effort.
As far as the Royals offense goes, they once again did ‘just enough.’
Facing Scott Kazmir (13-5), Kansas City came through in the third inning when Omar Infante delivered a two-run home run into the Royals’ bullpen. Infante, hitting just .202 in his last 25 games, jumped on a 2-0 fastball for his sixth long ball of the year, and his first since June 27.
Though that provided Vargas with all of the support he needed, the Royals added one more run on a Salvador Perez sacrifice fly in the fifth. Following two infield singles by Christian Colon and Infante, Perez plated the former on the sac fly, driving in his 50th run of the season.
Wednesday night’s game was the shortest of the year for either team, taking place in just two hours and six minutes. The announced attendance at Kauffman Stadium was just over 21,000, making it the 26th straight home game with at least 20,000 fans in attendance. The last time the mark was not met was back on June 11.
When you lead your division by a half-game with over 40 games left, every matchup is important. Wednesday’s game, though it wouldn’t carry any additional weight in the standings, sure felt more important than “just another game.”
Back in June, the Royals followed up a 10-game winning streak by returning home and getting swept by the Mariners. After their eight-game streak was snapped last night, fans wondered if the “same old Royals” would return once again, and if the team would collapse for the second time in three months.
Making Wednesday night even more important, the Detroit Tigers snapped a three-game losing streak by beating Pittsburgh 8-4. Had the Royals lost, they would have fallen back to second place and another losing streak would have begun.
Not on Vargas’ watch.
It was the southpaw’s first shutout since firing a four-hitter last September 24 with the Angels, which coincidentally was also against Oakland. Because of his efficiency, the entire bullpen was given the night off. For Greg Holland and Wade Davis, it was the first time since July 27-28 that they received back-to-back off days.
The entire bullpen, including Davis and Holland, will be rested for the series finale tomorrow evening. James Shields (11-6, 3.25 ERA), coming off a shutout of his own, will get the ball for Kansas City. He will be opposed by right-hander Jeff Samardzija (5-8, 2.91). Shields, trying to win his third straight start, will try to bring home the Royals’ seventh-straight series victory.