TORONTO — The rather staid Rogers Centre crowd briefly came to life in the ninth inning Thursday when Toronto’s Jose Bautista stepped into the box in a one-run game against Kansas City reliever Mike Minor.
The 35,861 fans in attendance were hoping for another dramatic moment from a slugger who’s likely playing his final homestand as a Blue Jay. Instead Bautista met the same fate as almost all of his teammates on this night, as Minor got him to pop up to preserve a 1-0 victory.
“His teammates want him to go out with a bang, there’s no doubt about that,” said Toronto manager John Gibbons. “We’ve all seen him do it many a time. I know everybody is rooting for him.”
Starter Jason Vargas and four relievers combined on a two-hit shutout as Kansas City (75-77) tries to hang on to its slim playoff hopes in the American League. The Royals entered play 3 1/2 games behind the Minnesota Twins for the second wild-card spot.
Bautista was hitless in four at-bats and had his average fall to .203. Dropping the rubber game of the three-game set guaranteed Toronto (71-82) would finish the season with a losing record.
The Blue Jays will close out their home schedule this weekend with a three-game series against the New York Yankees.
Vargas (17-10) issued three walks but kept the Toronto bats quiet over 6 1/3 innings with the roof open on a warm evening. Kendrys Morales reached on a soft single in the second inning and Darwin Barney was generously given a hit in the fifth when Melky Cabrera couldn’t squeeze a flare in right field.
“He definitely was lights out tonight,” Royals manager Ned Yost said of his starter.
Cabrera drove in Alex Gordon with a two-out single in the third inning off Toronto starter J.A. Happ for the game’s lone run. Royals relievers Peter Moylan, Ryan Buchter and Joakim Soria preceded Minor, who worked a 1-2-3 ninth for his second save.
“Obviously we didn’t hit a lick, that’s for sure,” Gibbons said.
Armed with a lead, the Royals threatened again in the fourth as Eric Hosmer reached on a Josh Donaldson throwing error. Salvador Perez singled but was erased when Mike Moustakas hit into a double play that moved Hosmer to third. Happ (9-11) fanned Jorge Bonifacio to escape.
Vargas, meanwhile, cruised through the first four innings and survived some suspect defence in the fifth.
After Barney reached on the Cabrera flub, Moustakas one-hopped a throw to second on a potential double-play ball and the Royals settled for a force. Vargas got Richard Urena to hit into another force and caught Teoscar Hernandez looking for the third out.
The Royals put runners on the corners with one out in the sixth but Happ got Perez to hit into a double play to keep it a one-run game. Happ’s 108-pitch outing ended in the seventh after issuing a two-out walk to Gordon.
The veteran southpaw allowed one earned run, seven hits and two walks while striking out six.
“You always want to finish strong,” Happ said. “I definitely feel strong right now with the life on the ball. So you’d like to carry that, finish out the year strong and hopefully bring that confidence into the following season.”
Vargas, who struck out seven, became the first Royal to win 17 games in a season since Paul Byrd in 2002. Lorenzo Cain had two of Kansas City’s eight hits.
Notes: The game took two hours 39 minutes to play. … Marco Estrada (9-8, 4.84 earned-run average) will start for Toronto on Friday night while New York counters with fellow right-hander Masahiro Tanaka (12-11, 4.73). … The Blue Jays will finish the season on the road with stops in Boston and New York next week.