KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Jason Vargas missed most of last season after having elbow surgery in 2015. This year he is a candidate to be the AL All-Star Game starter.
Vargas earned his major league-leading 11th victory, pitching seven efficient innings to lead the surging Kansas City Royals over the Toronto Blue Jays 3-2 Saturday.
The Royals won for the 11th time in 13 games and moved over .500 for the first time this season at 37-36.
“The pitching has been great, and we’ve got some timely hitting,” said Eric Hosmer, who homered in the fourth. “We’re definitely in synch as a team right now.”
Vargas (11-3) allowed two runs on eight hits, walked none and struck out two. Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw was set to try for his 11th win later Saturday against Colorado.
“It was a great day because we came out with a ‘W,'” Vargas said. “I felt like in those middle innings we got into a nice rhythm and had some nice plays made for us and got us out of a couple of innings.”
Troy Tulowitzki and Kevin Pillar homered off Vargas.
“I know Jason really well,” Tulowitzki said. “I went to college with him. It’s funny because he used to be a power guy, throw real hard. Now he’s finesse. But he knows how to pitch, bottom line. He gets himself better each and every year. Other than today, I’ve been happy for him, honestly, just because he’s a good friend and someone that really loves the game.”
Pillar’s home run tied the game at 2.
“The fellows came back and picked me up after I gave up that home run in the seventh,” Vargas said.
Alcides Escobar had three hits and scored twice, including the go-ahead run in the seventh. He singled with one out and scored on Alex Gordon’s triple down the right-field line off Marco Estrada (4-6).
After Joakim Soria struck out two in the eighth, Kelvin Herrera pitched the ninth for his 18th save in 20 chances.
Escobar tripled in the third when Blue Jays outfielders Jose Bautista and Pillar collided in right-center chasing the flyball. Escobar scored on Whit Merrifield’s sacrifice fly, which was not deep. He slid in ahead of left-fielder Steve Pearce’s throw.
“In that situation that’s a short fly ball to left field,” Escobar said. “Rusty (Kuntz, Royals base running coach) knows every outfielder and (said) if the ball is hit to left field, run. This guy is like a regular arm. He doesn’t throw too hard.”
The Blue Jays challenged the safe call at home, but it was upheld.
“I got my foot down before the tag,” Escobar said.
Estrada gave up three runs and five hits in seven innings. He struck out six and walked four. He lost his fourth straight start but had failed to make it out of the fourth innings in two of those.
“I’ve had really rough outings lately,” Estrada said. “Sometimes it’s hard to get out of that. Put things in your head that you’re not supposed to. Today, I just let it all go, you know. ‘You’re better than this’ and make pitches and stop worrying about everything. Things went a lot better. It’s still frustrating, some of those hits they got.”
Royals rookie Jorge Bonifacio walked in his first three plate appearances.
The Royals clinched their fifth straight series win. They are 6-0-1 in the past seven series. They are an American League best 15-6 in June.
Blue Jays: RHP Aaron Sanchez (broken nail on middle finger) will throw a minor league rehab game Tuesday for Class A Dunedin. … Pearce returned to the lineup after missing two games with a bruised right knee. He went hitless in three at-bats, snapping his season-high eight-game hitting streak.
Blue Jays: RHP Francisco Liriano, who is 3-3 with a 5.76 ERA, will make his 12th start.
Royals: RHP Jason Hammel, who is 3-1 with a 3.35 ERA since May 20, will start the series finale.