Jays kick off homestand with 5-4 win over Royals

TORONTO – Normally, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is content to keep the bat on his shoulder when he has a 3-0 count at the plate. But when he saw a fastball coming into the zone, he just couldn’t resist.

Guerrero’s two-run double was part of a four-run seventh inning and the Toronto Blue Jays hung to beat Kansas City 5-4 on Friday. He said it all came down to Royals reliever Carlos Hernandez putting a fastball down the middle.

“I’m the kind of hitter that I don’t really like to swing on 3-0,” Guerrero said via interpreter Hector Lebron. “That was the perfect scenario for me though with runners on base.

“I said, ‘Well, you know what, if he comes right here, I’m going to swing at it.'”

Bo Bichette drove in two runs with a single and a double for Toronto (78-63) in his first game since Aug. 27. Pinch-hitter Ernie Clement also had an RBI single.

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Bichette returned from the 10-day injured list four hours before the game after missing time with a strained right quadriceps.

“I would have been a lot happier if he had a few more days off,” said Royals manager Matt Quatraro.

The win, coupled with Texas’s 6-3 loss to the Oakland Athletics later Friday, extended Toronto’s lead to 1 1/2 games over the Rangers for the third and final American League wild-card berth.

“Day by day, just think one game at a time,” said Guerrero. “We win? Good. Savour it for a little bit and then take it to the next game.

“We lose? We flush it and let’s take it to the next game. Game by game.”

Starter Yusei Kikuchi had eight strikeouts over five innings for Toronto, allowing one run on three hits and a walk. Jordan Hicks, Trevor Richards, Chad Green (2-0), Tim Mayza, and Jordan Romano of Markham, Ont., came out of Toronto’s bullpen.

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Romano recorded four outs for his 33rd save of the season.

Dairon Blanco had a home run for Kansas City (44-98) and Nick Loftin added an RBI triple. Edward Olivares drove in a run with a fielder’s choice and Salvador Perez had a late RBI single.

The Royals had a bullpen day, with Collin Snider serving as opener before Alec Marsh, Austin Cox, Carlos Hernandez (1-10), and Tucker Davidson came to the mound.

Blanco opened the scoring for Kansas City in the third inning. Hitting at the bottom of the Royals lineup, it was just his second homer of the season.

More impressively, it was only the second home run Kikuchi has allowed in his nine starts since the all-star break. Only New York Mets starter Jose Quintana has allowed fewer in that span among pitchers with at least 50 innings pitched.

“Credit to him, he’s really, really turned it on in the second half,” said Toronto manager John Schneider. “He’s been as consistent as anyone the entire year.”

Kikuchi gave up a soft bunt to Freddy Fermin to start the fifth but was dialed in after that, striking out Loftin, Kyle Isbel, and Blanco to end the inning.

“Every inning I thought my fastball was getting better and better,” said Kikuchi via interpreter Yusuke Oshima. “I think I used my fastball really effectively today.”

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Kevin Kiermaier led off the sixth for the Blue Jays with a triple, sliding to avoid the tag. Two batters later, Bichette hit a double down the first-base line to tie the game 1-1.

It looked like Loftin would be the final out of the seventh as Toronto right-fielder George Springer tracked down the ball near the foul line but his attempt at a sliding catch was mistimed, with the ball bouncing off his glove.

That allowed Loftin to safely reach third as Fermin crossed home for a 2-1 Royals lead.

Cox had to be removed from the game in the bottom of the seventh after a scary injury. The relief pitcher was running to first base on a ground ball but planted his left foot badly, apparently twisting his knee and immediately dropping to the turf in agony.

Alejandro Kirk reached base on the play with Tyler Heineman then pinch running for him. Springer drew a walk to bring Bichette back to the plate. His single to left field scored Heineman.

Guerrero was next up and he made no mistake, hitting his double to bring home Springer and Bichette for Toronto’s first lead of the game.

Clement tacked on another run with a single, pushing Guerrero across the plate for a 5-2 Blue Jays lead.

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Olivares chipped away at that lead for Kansas City in the eighth, hitting into a fielder’s choice to score Bobby Witt Jr., when Clement tried to turn a double play to end the inning.

With two on and two out in the ninth, Perez singled to score Isbel and pull the Royals within a run.

ON DECK — Blue Jays ace Kevin Gausman (10-8) will get the start in Saturday’s matinee.

Zack Greinke (1-14) is scheduled to pitch for the Royals.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 8, 2023.

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