Not even the starting pitcher with the best ERA in the majors could slow down the hot-hitting, free-swinging New York Yankees on Wednesday night.
Aaron Hicks hit a three-run homer to cap a five-run fourth inning, New York piled up 16 hits against Jason Vargas and the Kansas City bullpen, and the Yankees rolled to an 11-7 victory – their fourth straight game scoring at least seven runs.
"I thought they just put really good at-bats together against him, even the first time through, when we didn't score," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "The second time through, we got to him."
Vargas (5-2) carried a 1.01 ERA into the game, but allowed as many runs in the fourth inning as he had in his first seven starts combined. The veteran left-hander was lifted after allowing six runs on seven hits and two walks in only four innings, ending his home unbeaten streak at 10 games.
"He just wasn't sharp. It's one of those days where he got through the first three OK and then just really struggled to finish off his pitches," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "He was getting pitches up at times. He got hurt on a fastball, a curveball and a changeup – all three of them."
Then again, maybe Vargas's abysmal night shouldn't have been that much of a surprise. He's never beaten the Yankees in nine starts and 10 outings, going 0-6 with a 7.15 ERA.
"Obviously the home run extended the game for them and put us in a pretty good hole," Vargas said. "I just didn't do a great job of executing."
Michael Pineda (4-2) allowed three runs and six hits with two walks over six-plus innings. The big right-hander was shaky throughout, but good enough to win for only the second time in 16 road starts.
"When you have a lot of scoring like that, you feel pretty good," Pineda said. "Comfortable."
Dellin Betances got one out for his first save since replacing injured Aroldis Chapman as the Yankees' closer.
Starlin Castro had three hits and drove in a run. Brett Gardner and Didi Gregorius each had two hits and two RBIs. In fact, the only Yankees without a hit by the fifth inning were Matt Holliday and Aaron Judge, and all Judge had done was draw a pair of walks and score both times.
Holliday and Judge promptly got their base hits in the sixth.
Salvador Perez hit a two-run homer and Whit Merrifield also went deep for Kansas City, which scored three times in the ninth to make the final score more respectable.
The Yankees entered the game leading the big leagues with a plus-59 run differential, and they added to it on a windy night at Kauffman Stadium. They pounded their 59th home run through their first 37 games, and scored seven or more runs for the fourth consecutive game.
They routed the Royals 7-1 in the series opener Tuesday night.
Two for one
Yankees third baseman Chase Headley was charged with two errors on one play in the seventh inning. First, he bobbled a grounder that allowed Merrifield to reach first safely. Then, he threw widely of first base to allow the lead runner to go from second to third.
A-Rod on TV
Alex Rodriguez makes his debut as a color commentator for the series finale on Thursday. A-Rod will join Kevin Burkhardt in calling the game on Fox Sports. Rodriguez has been active in TV since his retirement, doing pre- and postgame analysis for Fox Sports along with other projects.
"I get a chance to talk to him tomorrow pregame and talk about the team, so that will be kind of strange," Girardi said. "That means I'm getting old."
Royals RHP Ian Kennedy played long toss before the game and should be ready to start Saturday. He has been out with a right hamstring injury. "Things are looking pretty good," Yost said. ... CF Lorenzo Cain left after jamming his left wrist trying to make a sliding catch. Yost called it precautionary.
Yankees LHP Jordan Montgomery goes for his third career win in his seventh big league start on Thursday night. He was battered by Houston in his last start Friday night.
Royals LHP Danny Duffy tries to snap a five-start winless streak against his nemesis. Duffy is just 1-2 with a 7.29 ERA in seven appearances against New York.