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

TORONTO — Kevin Kiermaier's seventh-inning home run lifted the Blue Jays over the Kansas City Royals 5-2 on Sunday as Toronto kept pace in the American League's wild-card chase.

Santiago Espinal and Cavan Biggio added RBI singles in the eighth as Toronto (80-63) completed a three-game sweep of the Royals.

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 of the year despite loading the bases.

The Blue Jays entered the game with a 1 1/2 game lead over the Texas Rangers for the third and final wild-card berth in the American League. Texas hosted the Oakland Athletics on Sunday afternoon.

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, as he 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 inning with a triple to deep right field for his second triple of 2023.

Remarkably, Toronto and Kansas City combined for three triples in their three-game series, which is a difficult feat with the relatively shallow outfield at Rogers Centre.

Witt capitalized on Isbel's extra-base hit, doubling down the third-base line for a 1-0 lead.

Witt didn't stop there, either. He 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 the game 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.

Clarke quickly got Whit Merrifield to pop out to end the inning but the damage was done. The game was tied and the 35,275 fans at Rogers Centre were energized.

Kiermaier rode that momentum into the seventh. He sent an 84.3 m.p.h. Clarke sweeper 361 feet for his eighth home run of the season. It also gave Toronto its first lead of the game and ended Clarke's relief appearance.

Toronto extended its lead in the eighth.

Espinal laid down a bunt for a base hit, 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.

BICHETTE DHing — All-star shortstop Bo Bichette was the Blue Jays' designated hitter Sunday as he is eased back into playing every day again. He came off Toronto's injured list Friday after missing time with a strained right quadriceps. Ernie Clement started at shortstop instead of Bichette.

ON DECK — Chris Bassitt (14-7) will take the mound as Toronto hosts the Texas Rangers in the first game of a four-game series that could decide the playoff scenarios for both teams.

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

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

John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press