Royals blank Jays to keep pace in WC race

Royals blank Jays to keep pace in WC race

TORONTO -- Jason Vargas turned in one of his best outings of the season at the perfect time, going 6 1/3 strong innings to help lead the Royals to a 1-0 win over the Blue Jays on Thursday night in the rubber game at Rogers Centre.

The Royals, with 10 games left in their pursuit of the second American League Wild Card spot, remained 3 1/2 back of the Twins, who rolled to a 12-1 win over the Tigers.

"We just won two in a row, so that means that we're in a better spot than we were two days ago," said Vargas, who is the first Royals lefty to win 17 games in a season since Charlie Leibrandt in 1985. "I think the goal for everybody is to just keep pressing forward, keep playing good baseball, and that's all we can control."

Vargas kept the Blue Jays from mounting anything that resembled a rally by forcing plenty of weak contact. The left-hander allowed just two hits and three walks to go with seven strikeouts. Royals relievers Peter Moylan, Ryan Buchter and Joakim Soria bridged the gap to Mike Minor, who worked a 1-2-3 ninth to preserve the shutout and earn his second career save. The five pitchers kept the Blue Jays from advancing a runner past first base.

Vargas K's seven in 17th win

"That's just some icing on the cake for the game," Vargas said. "It was fortunate for us that we were able to get a couple of double plays or some popups when they did have guys on first base and not really let them get anything going."

Blue Jays starter J.A. Happ also pitched well, but he wasn't given any run support. Happ allowed just one earned run over 6 2/3 innings, and he limited the damage of seven hits by forcing more ground-ball contact than usual. Happ struck out six and walked two on 108 pitches.

"We didn't hit a lick, that's for sure," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "[Vargas] is having a big year. If you don't use the whole field on him, he's going to give you a lot of trouble, and I don't think we did enough of that. But he keeps you off-balance."

The one and only ...: Melky Cabrera put the Royals on the board in the third with a two-out single that scored Alex Gordon. Cabrera squared up the two-seam fastball from Happ and sent it into the left-center gap.

Cabrera's RBI single to center

Happ keeps it close: Happ avoided another Royals threat in the sixth to keep the Blue Jays within striking distance. With runners on the corners and one out, Happ used his curveball to force a ground ball from Salvador Perez to shortstop Richard Urena, who flipped to Darwin Barney at second to start the inning-ending double play. More >

Urena and Barney turn two

"It was a two-seamer and a curveball tonight that got those two big double-play balls," Happ said. "I felt like I got more of those last year, but they came in big spots tonight. So those were big pitches that we were able to turn that got us out of a few jams tonight."

"All of his teammates want him to go out with a bang, there's no doubt about that. They've all seen him do it many times. I know everybody's rooting for him." -- Gibbons, on Jose Bautista receiving a standing ovation in his final at-bat before popping out to third base. Bautista is a free agent at the end of the year and is not expected to return to the Blue Jays

Bautista struck out for the 160th time, a Blue Jays record for strikeouts in a single season.

Toronto's 82nd loss guaranteed the club of a losing season for the first time since 2013.

Royals: Right-hander Jason Hammel (8-12, 5.05 ERA) will get the ball on Friday night at 7:10 p.m. CT when the Royals open a three-game series against the White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field. Over his past two starts, a combined 9 1/3 innings, Hammel allowed 12 runs (11 earned) on 21 hits to go with 10 strikeouts.

Blue Jays: Right-hander Marco Estrada (9-8, 4.84) will take the mound at 7:10 p.m. ET on Friday when the Blue Jays open their final home series of the season with a three-game set against the Yankees. It will mark Estrada's first outing since officially signing a one-year contract extension worth $13 million earlier this week.

Watch every out-of-market regular-season game live on MLB.TV.

Keegan Matheson is a reporter for based in Toronto and covered the Royals on Thursday.

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.