Kiermaier lifts Blue Jays over Royals 5-2; Toronto keeps pace in wild-card hunt

TORONTO — Kevin Kiermaier was so fired up after Toronto's wild 5-2 win over the Kansas City Royals on Sunday he had to speak directly to Blue Jays fans.

During his post-game interview, Kiermaier grabbed the microphone from Sportsnet's Arden Zwelling and started addressing the 35,275 fans at Rogers Centre.

He announced that Toronto has worked all year to reach the post-season and that the Blue Jays are going to do it.

Kiermaier did his part to keep Toronto in the American League's wild-card chase in the win, hitting a home run in the seventh inning to give the Blue Jays (80-63) their first lead of the game.

"We've just got to keep doing what we're doing," Kiermaier later told reporters. "We're showing up, ready to work. Taking everything day by day.

"We've got great energy right now. We're clicking at the right time. We just want to keep this thing going."

Santiago Espinal and Cavan Biggio added RBI singles in the eighth inning as Toronto completed a three-game sweep of the Royals.

The Blue Jays now hold the AL's second wild card berth, a game up on Seattle after the Mariners lost to the Tampa Bay Rays 6-3 on Sunday.

The Texas Rangers topped the Oakland Athletics 9-4 to sit a game behind Seattle.

Toronto hosts the Rangers in a pivotal four-game series starting Monday.

"We know we're playing a team who's in the wild card hunt as well," said Kiermaier. "We've got to play great baseball from here on out because our opponents are all in the thick of it, in a somewhat similar boat as us.

"But we're in a great position right now and life is all about taking advantage of opportunities."

José Berríos (10-10) struck out seven and allowed just two runs over seven innings. He gave up five hits before Yimi Garcia, Genesis Cabrera and Jordan Romano of Markham, Ont., took the mound.

Romano earned his 34th save despite loading the bases.

"We know where we are right now," said Berríos. "Every game counts, every pitch, every out."

Bobby Witt Jr. had an RBI double as Kansas City (44-100) dropped its fourth straight. Salvador Perez hit into a fielder's choice to score another run.

Cole Ragans was solid, pitching one-hit ball with six strikeouts for 5 2/3 innings. But he gave up six walks, including three in the sixth inning when Ragans imploded to give up two runs.

Taylor Clarke (2-5), Collin Snider and Jackson Kowar came out of the visitors' bullpen.

Royals centre-fielder Kyle Isbel led off the sixth with a triple. Witt capitalized on Isbel's extra-base hit, doubling for a 1-0 lead.

Witt stole third during the next at bat, getting into position to score when Perez hit into a fielder's choice for a 2-0 Royals lead.

But Ragans fell to pieces in the bottom of the inning.

With two outs, Ragans issued back-to-back walks to Vladimir Guerrero Jr., and Davis Schneider.

He then threw three consecutive wild pitches to Alejandro Kirk, with Guerrero scoring on the second and Schneider plating on the third to tie it 2-2.

Ragans's fourth pitch to Kirk wasn't wild, but it was well above the strike zone, allowing the Toronto catcher to reach base. Ragans was then pulled in favour of Clarke.

After the game Ragans said that the cleat on his lead foot was catching the dirt on the mound.

"I’ve never seen it, never had it happen to me. I don’t know. Just kind of a freak accident," said Ragans. "It’s pretty aggravating."

Berríos said he had no problem with the mound, pitching an inning longer than Ragans.

"Oh my God, no, never see that before," said Berríos. "I don't know what happened there.

"He was dealing all day long and then in that inning he started throwing the ball over the fence."

Kiermaier rode that momentum shift in the seventh with his eighth home run of the season.

He said the Blue Jays knew they could take advantage of the Kansas City bullpen with Ragans out of the game.

"The way we did tie it up, I don't think anyone envisioned that," said Kiermaier. "But that's why we play 27 outs and that's what makes this game so great.

"You never know what's going to happen and thankfully, little bit of luck was on our side today."

Espinal laid down a bunt for a base hit in the eighth, allowing pinch-runner Daulton Varsho to score. Cavan Biggio followed that up with a single to left field to score Merrifield for the 5-2 lead.

ON DECK — Chris Bassitt (14-7) will take the mound when Toronto hosts Texas on Monday.

The Rangers' starter has not yet been named for the evening matchup.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 10, 2023.

John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press