Kirk’s 2-run homer in 8th lifts Jays to 4-2 win over Royals

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TORONTO — Alejandro Kirk hit a two-run home run in the eighth inning, sending the Toronto Blue Jays to a 4-2 victory against the Kansas City Royals on Sunday.

Kansas City, in last place in the AL Central, was without 10 unvaccinated players, including All-Star outfielder Andrew Benintendi and infielder Whit Merrifield, during this four-game series in Toronto.

The Royals won the first game of the series Thursday and then dropped the next three.

Since unvaccinated foreign nationals aren’t allowed to enter Canada, the Royals roster included Triple-A and Double-A prospects, making an already difficult series against the high-powered Blue Jays more challenging.

Both teams scored a pair of runs in the first few innings, but that was the extent of the offense until Kirk’s homer off Wyatt Mills (0-1).

“Thank God we’ve finished off strong in the first half,” Kirk said through an interpreter.

Blue Jays starter Jose Berrios settled into a rhythm, working 6? innings, allowing two earned runs and seven hits while striking out seven and walking one.

Left-hander Tim Mayza (3-0) took over for Berrios out of the bullpen, working 1? innings in relief with two strikeouts to pick up the win. Jordan Romano worked a perfect ninth for his 20th save of the season.

Royals starter Kris Bubic kept Blue Jays hitters off balance. He was effective against the right-handed heavy Jays, allowing just two unearned runs and five hits while striking out four. The 24-year-old said by diversifying his pitches, he was able to get hitters swinging at low-probability pitches.

“We mixed pitches really well, rhythm, tempo,” Bubic said. “Just wanted to stay on the attack as much as I could all day, and good things happened.”

Royals shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. let a routine double play ball go through his legs in the third inning. His 13th error of the season contributed to the first two Blue Jays runs.

But Royals manager Mike Matheny said he wasn’t worried about Witt’s lone miscue in this game.

“Errors happen to the very best players, and he does a great job of letting them go and getting ready for the next one,” Matheny said.

Matt Chapman had two more hits for the Blue Jays, giving him seven hits in his past six games.

Nick Pratto, one of Kansas City’s call-ups, hit his first major league home run in the second inning off Berrios.

“It was just something where he threw a pitch that kind of matched up with what I feel is a strength of mine, and I didn’t miss it,” the 24-year-old said.

During this four-game series, Pratto has showed why he’s considered one of the Royals’ top prospects, picking up three hits and playing well at first base.

Blue Jays catcher Danny Jansen threw out the Royals Freddy Fermin trying to steal second in the fifth inning, then picked off Pratto at first to end a threat in the seventh. The Jays catcher is 3 for 10 throwing out base-stealers this season.

THE SIX FROM THE 6IX

Closer Jordan Romano was announced Sunday as a replacement for the All-Star Game, joining Blue Jays teammates Alek Manoah, Alejandro Kirk, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Santiago Espinal and George Springer on the AL roster.

ALL-STAR BLUES

Excluding the shortened 2020 season, the Royals will now have entered the All-Star break either tied for or in last place in the AL Central for the fourth consecutive season.

BUBIC’S BEST

Bubic’s seven innings matched a career high. Sunday was also the second time in his career the left-hander has allowed no earned runs through seven innings, with the previous time coming Sept. 26, 2021.

ROSTER MOVES

Before Sunday’s game, the Royals recalled LHP Gabe Speier from Triple-A Omaha. Speier has a 2.33 ERA in 17 major-league appearances this season.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Blue Jays LHP Yusei Kikuchi threw a bullpen Sunday that was supervised by pitching coach Pete Walker. Kikuchi has been on the injured list with a neck strain since July 7.

UP NEXT

Royals: Kansas City hosts Tampa Bay for three games beginning Friday night in its first series following the All-Star break.

Blue Jays: Toronto opens the second half with a three-game series at Boston that begins Friday night.

Texas Rangers ink free-agent ace Jacob deGrom to 5-year deal

Jacob deGrom
USA Today
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ARLINGTON, Texas — Jacob deGrom is headed to the free-spending Texas Rangers, who believe the health risk is worth the potential reward in trying to end a six-year run of losing.

The two-time Cy Young Award winner agreed to a $185 million, five-year contract Friday, leaving the New York Mets after nine seasons – the past two shortened substantially by injuries.

“We acknowledge the risk, but we also acknowledge that in order to get great players, there is a risk and a cost associated with that,” Rangers general manager Chris Young said. “And one we feel like is worth taking with a player of Jacob’s caliber.”

Texas announced the signing after the 34-year-old deGrom passed his physical. A person with direct knowledge of the deal disclosed the financial terms to The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the club did not announce those details.

The Rangers were also big spenders in free agency last offseason, signing shortstop Corey Seager ($325 million, 10 years) and second baseman Marcus Semien ($175 million, seven years).

The team said deGrom will be introduced in a news conference at Globe Life Field next week following the winter meetings in San Diego.

“It fits in so many ways in terms of what we need,” Young said. “He’s a tremendous person. I have a number of close friends and teammates who played with Jacob and love him. I think he’s going to be just a perfect fit for our clubhouse and our fans.”

Texas had modest expectations after adding Seager, Semien and starter Jon Gray ($56 million, four years) last offseason but still fell short of them.

The Rangers went 68-94, firing manager Chris Woodward during the season, and then hired Bruce Bochy, a three-time World Series champion with San Francisco. Texas’ six straight losing seasons are its worst skid since the franchise moved from Washington in 1972.

Rangers owner Ray Davis said the club wouldn’t hesitate to keep adding payroll. Including the $19.65 million qualifying offer accepted by Martin Perez, the team’s best pitcher last season, the Rangers have spent nearly $761 million in free agency over the past year.

“I hate losing, but I think there’s one person in our organization who hates losing worse than me, and I think it’s Ray Davis,” Young said. “He’s tired of losing. I’m tired of losing. Our organization is tired of losing.”

After making his first start in early August last season, deGrom went 5-4 with a 3.08 ERA in 11 outings. He helped the Mets reach the playoffs, then passed up a $30.5 million salary for 2023 and opted out of his contract to become a free agent for the first time.

That ended his deal with the Mets at $107 million over four years, and deGrom rejected their $19.65 million qualifying offer in November. New York will receive draft-pick compensation for losing him.

The fan favorite becomes the latest in a long line of ace pitchers to leave the Mets for one reason or another, including Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden and David Cone.

The Rangers visit Citi Field from Aug. 28-30.

When healthy, deGrom is perhaps baseball’s most dominant pitcher. His 2.52 career ERA ranks third in the expansion era (since 1961) behind Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw (2.48) and Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax (2.19) among those with at least 200 starts.

The right-hander is 4-1 with a 2.90 ERA in five career postseason starts, including a win over San Diego in the wild-card round this year that extended the Mets’ season. New York was eliminated the next night.

A four-time All-Star and the 2014 NL Rookie of the Year, deGrom was a ninth-round draft pick by the Mets in 2010 out of Stetson, where he played shortstop before moving to the mound. He was slowed by Tommy John surgery early in his career and didn’t reach the majors until age 26.

Once he arrived, though, he blossomed. He helped the Mets reach the 2015 World Series and earn a 2016 playoff berth before winning consecutive NL Cy Young Awards in 2018 and 2019.

But injuries to his elbow, forearm and shoulder blade have limited him to 26 starts over the past two seasons. He compiled a career-low 1.08 ERA over 92 innings in 2021, but did not pitch after July 7 that year because of arm trouble.

DeGrom is 82-57 with 1,607 strikeouts in 1,326 innings over nine big league seasons. He gets $30 million next year, $40 million in 2024 and 2025, $38 million in 2026 and $37 million in 2027. The deal includes a conditional option for 2028 with no guaranteed money.

The addition of deGrom gives the Rangers three proven starters along with Gray and Perez, who went 12-8 with a career-best 2.89 ERA in his return to the team that signed him as a teenager out of Venezuela. Young didn’t rule out the addition of another starter.

With several holes on their starting staff, the Mets have shown interest in free agents Justin Verlander and Carlos Rodon to pair with 38-year-old Max Scherzer atop the rotation.

Now, with deGrom gone, signing one of those two could become a much bigger priority.