KANSAS CITY -- It has been years -- decades? -- since the Royals and Yankees squared off this late in the season with serious postseason hopes on the line for both teams.
And the surging Royals came out swinging first in the three-game set at Kauffman Stadium, punching across three runs in the first and then riding the strong pitching of right-hander Dillon Gee in an 8-5 win on Monday night.
The defending World Series champion Royals have won 18 of 22, and crept to just two games back of the Orioles in the American League Wild Card standings. The Yankees stayed 3 1/2 behind Baltimore.
Shortstop Alcides Escobar pounded a three-run homer to left off reliever Blake Parker, highlighting a five-run seventh for the Royals that put the game out of reach. Gee gave up four hits and one run over six innings.
"Earlier in the year, I wasn't getting results even though I thought I was pitching well," Gee said. "Tonight, I got some breaks on balls they just missed, and so I got the results. But I'm definitely feeling more comfortable with each start."
Right-hander Michael Pineda gave up three in the first, then retired 15 straight before giving up two hits to start the fateful seventh. He gave up five runs over six-plus innings. The Yankees pushed across four runs in the eighth before Kelvin Herrera came on for a four-out save.
"You just have the mentality that you're going to sit down and get back up and do your job," Herrera said of the rare four-out save. "Just make pitches."
Yankees manager Joe Girardi was tossed in the eighth inning for arguing balls and strikes, his second ejection this season.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED That's what speed do: The Royals used their legs to manufacture a three-run first inning. Jarrod Dyson beat out an infield hit leading off, went to second on a wild pitch, stole third, and scored on Lorenzo Cain's single. Cain then stole second and scored on Kendrys Morales' single to left. Two straight singles from Salvador Perez and Alex Gordon plated Morales, who barrelled home from second on Gordon's hit to right.
"You always try to jump out early and take advantage of situations and try to put some runs on the board early to give your starting pitcher a little breathing room," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "And we did that. Three in the first was a pretty nice little way to start the game off."
If at first: Pineda endured yet another shaky opening act, with Kansas City's three-run frame bloating his first inning ERA from 6.84 to 7.62. But he then settled in to retire 15 straight Royals before Morales broke the string with a single to open the seventh. The sum was another perplexing outing for the right-hander, who walked none and struck out eight, yet was tagged with his career-high 11th loss. More >
"He was able just to put hitters away," Girardi said. "He had a hard time the first inning doing it, and it looked like he might get out of it with one run, and then it turned into three. Gosh, he was really good after that, and then he got into trouble again in the seventh."
Another big hit from Esky: Royals manager Ned Yost loves to chat about how Escobar -- last year's Most Valuable Player of the AL Championship Series -- comes up with big hits late in games. Escobar's three-run homer in the seventh proved that again.
Escobar now has four homers this season -- his career high is five. Where did the power come from?
"I know when I hit it right," Escobar said, "it can go out. I wasn't 100 percent sure of this one, but I knew I hit it well."
Too little, too late: Trailing by seven runs going to the eighth inning, the Yanks trimmed the deficit and brought the potential tying run to the plate in pinch-hitter Mark Teixeira, who grounded out facing Kelvin Herrera with two on. New York had closed the deficit against Chris Young and Peter Moylan, highlighted by Didi Gregorius' second double of the night, which knocked in two runs.
"I think we still have a chance. We're playing really good baseball," said Starlin Castro, who belted a run-scoring double in the fourth and added a sacrifice fly in the eighth. "We almost came back in that game. We have to try to continue playing, focus and start winning games."
WHAT'S NEXT Yankees: Right-hander Masahiro Tanaka (11-4, 3.11 ERA) will start the second game of the set at Kauffman Stadium on Tuesday at 8:15 p.m. ET. Tanaka has dominated his last two outings, giving up zero runs in 14 2/3 innings. In those starts, he's struck out 14 compared to just one walk.
Royals: Right-hander Edinson Volquez (10-10, 4.88) will get the ball against the Yankees on Tuesday at 7:15 p.m. CT. Volquez gave up two runs (zero earned) in five innings in his last start against the Marlins, marking the first time since July 24 that he gave up fewer than four runs in an outing.