Royals starting pitcher Jason Vargas gets the dousing from teammates Christian Colon and Salvador Perez following the 3-0 victory over the A's on Wednesday. (John Sleezer / McClatchy)
Kansas City, Mo. — The crowd roared as Jason Vargas emerged from the dugout for the ninth inning, the Kansas City Royals trying to hold onto a 3-0 lead over the Oakland A’s in a matchup of playoff hopefuls.
Five pitches later, the crowd roared even louder.
Vargas finished off his three-hitter with a flourish, breezing through the A’s for his sixth career shutout. It was the second shutout by Kansas City starters in the past week and the third complete game over that stretch, a big reason why the Royals are leading the AL Central.
“That’s what we want to do if we want to keep playing,” said Vargas, who was making just his third start since going on the disabled list for an emergency appendectomy.
Vargas (9-5) retired the final 23 batters he faced, helping the Royals bounce back from having an eight-game winning streak snapped. They maintained their half-game lead over Detroit.
“If it’s the first pitch or sixth pitch, you’ve got to be ready for contact for a pitch to show up in your area,” said Josh Donaldson, who had one of the A’s three hits. “He did a good job of keeping us off balance all night.”
Omar Infante hit a two-run homer and Salvador Perez drove in the other run off Scott Kazmir (13-5), who lost to Kansas City for the second time in 10 days.
Vargas allowed four runs over 4 1-3 innings against Oakland in his first start off the disabled list, and two runs over five innings against San Francisco his last time out. But on a mild evening at the K, he looked like the dominant left-hander of earlier this season.
Mixing his pitches and catching the corners, Vargas wiggled out of a jam in the first inning and gave up a single leading off the second before muzzling Oakland the rest of the way.
Vargas needed only 92 pitches over eight innings, so manager Ned Yost sent him out for the ninth rather than turn it over to All-Star closer Greg Holland. Five pitches later, he had his first shutout since last September, when he beat Oakland 3-0 as a member of the Angels.
“He got back to being how he was,” Yost said.
Meanwhile, the Royals were giving Vargas more than enough offense.
After leaving runners on the corners in the first, Kansas City broke through in the third when Nori Aoki cracked a one-out single and Infante sent a 2-0 pitch into the left-field bullpen. It was his sixth homer of the season and his first since June 27.
The Royals left another runner on third in the fourth, but managed to manufacture a run in the fifth. Christian Colon led off with a single, Aoki laid down a sacrifice bunt and Infante managed to beat the throw on an infield single before Perez hit a lazy sacrifice fly to right field.
Kazmir wound up allowing seven hits and a walk over seven innings.
“You just have to keep after it,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “At times, you’re going to get well-pitched games against you and today was one of those. I don’t think our approach was any worse today than it was yesterday. It was counteracted by a guy that pitched a great game.”
Steinbrenner sends message
Sounding much like his late father, Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner said his team’s offense has to snap out of its funk and he’s optimistic New York will return to the playoffs after a one-year absence.
Steinbrenner spoke at Major League Baseball’s owners meetings before New York wasted a two-run lead in a 5-3 loss to the first-place Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards, a few blocks away.
The third-place Yankees dropped a season-high eight games off the AL East lead and fell 3.5 games behind in the race for the AL’s second wild card.
Even before the loss, Steinbrenner was especially disappointed with New York’s batters.
“They’ve got to step it up, and they know it,” he said.
New York began the night tied for 19th with 471 runs, a disappointment given the offseason additions of Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran. Steinbrenner said the inconsistency “needs to change.”
Machado on DL
Orioles third baseman Manny Machado was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a sprained right knee ligament, an injury far less serious than originally feared.
Machado took an awkward swing in Monday’s game against the New York Yankees and crumpled in the batter’s box, clutching his knee. He had to be helped off the field and was provided a pair of crutches after the game.
An MRI on Tuesday revealed that the 2013 Gold Glove recipient has a sprained ligament. If all goes well, he could be back for the final month of the season.
“Obviously, it’s a great relief,” Machado said. “When it happens, things cross your mind and you assume already the worse.
“But you can’t assume anything until you actually see the results and it’s in front of your face. I’m just glad it’s not as bad as we thought.”
Tulowitzki out for year
All-Star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki will have surgery on his left hip Friday in Vail, Colorado, and miss the rest of the season, the Rockies said Wednesday.
Tulowitzki, whose .340 batting average remains tops in the big leagues, has a torn labrum in his hip, the team said after a 5-3 loss to the San Diego Padres.
He was placed on the 15-day disabled list on July 22, three days after he was hurt running out a grounder at Pittsburgh.
While it was Tulowitzki’s first trip to the DL this season, he had taken days off to rest his chronically tight legs. The leg issues date to 2008 when he tore the left quadriceps tendon.
Around the horn
Yu Darvish will miss at least a couple of starts for the Rangers because of right elbow inflammation.
Texas placed its ace from Japan on the 15-day disabled list, a day before his scheduled start against Tampa Bay. He will have an MRI on Thursday.
... Gordy MacKenzie, the longtime minor league manager and coach and scout who had a short stint in the majors as a catcher with the Kansas City A’s, has died. He was 77.