Shortly after his team's tight victory, Royals manager Ned Yost sported a look of relief as he addressed reporters.
"That was a big hit for us tonight," Yost said. "We'd still be out there if it wasn't for that."
The Royals have now won eight of their last 10 to stay four games behind the Tigers in the American League Central and move within 2 1/2 games of Toronto for the second AL Wild Card spot. More importantly, Kansas City was able to silence baseball's best offense for its eighth team shutout of the year.
Looking ahead to the pair of All-Star southpaws -- Jon Lester and Scott Kazmir -- that the Royals have to face this weekend, both Yost and starter Jeremy Guthrie said the victory was huge to open the three-game set.
"It's not something we've done a whole bunch lately," Guthrie said. "A 1-0 win, we should be very excited. It means you pitched well, you played good defense and you got a big hit from somebody, and tonight it was Raul. 1-0 wins are big wins."
Ibanez's dinger stood as the game's only run, on a night when Gray and Guthrie each mowed down the opposing lineups.
With one out in the fifth inning, Ibanez stepped to the plate and laced the first pitch he saw over the right-center-field fence for his fifth homer of the year.
"Looking for a pitch that I could get the fat part of the bat on and hit a line drive with," Ibanez said. "Just jumped on the first pitch I saw that was good. He's got good stuff and I didn't feel like waiting around too long."
As for him being the oldest player in franchise history to go yard, Ibanez didn't seem to care much about that piece of baseball trivia.
"I don't think about it," Ibanez said. "I physically feel really good."
Guthrie (7-9, 4.50 ERA) looked sharp in his first start of the month after posting a 10.07 ERA in July. He retired the first nine batters he faced and finished six shutout innings, allowing three hits and two walks while striking out six.
The veteran said he felt his curveball clicking during his warmup bullpen session and relied on the breaking pitch to keep the A's off balance all night.
"He was ultra sharp," Yost said. "He was commanding all of his pitches, he was changing all his speeds really effectively, he was hitting all his spots. He did a great job of just pitching to the gameplan."
Though Guthrie didn't run into much trouble early, the A's made him labor in the later stages of the game. Oakland's best chance to score came in the sixth, when they put runners on the corners with one out. Brandon Moss nearly hit a three-run homer out to right, but it hooked foul before Guthrie got Moss and Jed Lowrie to strike out to end the inning.
It was a fitting way to end his first scoreless start of the year. So what was the difference between Friday night's outing and his July struggles?
"I don't really have the answer," Guthrie said.
Offensively, Kansas City couldn't get much going against Gray other than Ibanez's home run, as the young righty only faced three batters over the minimum. Gray (12-4, 2.59 ERA) tossed seven innings of one-run ball, giving up three hits while striking out seven in a hard-luck loss.
"It kind of had that feeling early on that it might be a low-scoring game," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "Both guys threw the ball real well. Sonny one pitch, other than that was terrific. Guthrie mixed his repertoire up really well, changeups, kept us off balance and their bullpen is pretty good."
Once Guthrie exited the game, the Royals' reliever trio of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland turned in three scoreless innings to preserve the shutout.
Yost initially wanted to stay away from Davis and Holland, who had each worked in consecutive games entering Friday's contest. But before the game, Yost said both relievers approached him to say their arms were ready for three straight days of action.
A's outfielder Josh Reddick made things interesting by hitting a two-out double in the ninth to put the game-tying run in scoring position, but Holland was able to strike out Alberto Callaspo to end the game.
"It's one of those situations where you're in a 1-0 game with a tough pitching staff over there," Yost said, "you know there's not going to be a lot of runs scored so you want to go on with your best guys."