KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- On July 21, it seemed the Kansas City Royals were doomed to sit out the playoffs for the 29th consecutive year. They had lost four straight, were eight games behind the Detroit Tigers and two games below .500.
How things have changed in three weeks.
"You want to be in first place," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "Our goal was to get back to first place. Now our goal is to stay in first place."
The Royals, who have not been in the playoffs since winning the 1985 World Series, have won 16 of their last 19 games and eight straight to put them 11 games above .500 and a half-game in front of the Tigers, who lost to Pittsburgh.
"If it's a scale of one to 10, it's a 10 or an 11," first baseman Billy Butler said of being in first place this late into the season. "We're just playing good baseball. We're getting good results. This is the way this team is designed to play."
Escobar's two-out ground-ball single to center in the seventh scored pinch runner Nori Aoki. Escobar also stroked a two-out run-producing single in the second inning. Both hits were on 0-2 counts.
"It was the right pitch, the wrong spot," said losing pitcher Sonny Gray. "I didn't locate it and he stayed on it and put a good swing on it. It was two good teams going at it. It's always going to be one mistake, and unfortunately for us I was the one who made the mistake."
Gray left a breaking pitch up that Escobar could handle.
"It was his third curveball in a row," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "He's trying to get him to bounce it for a chase and just didn't get it all the way to the ground."
"I know he is a quick runner," Reddick said. "I looked up and saw him running hard. When I realized he wasn't going, I just tried to slow down instead of just throwing it. I just lost the grip.
"It's not a good feeling. It's pretty embarrassing, especially since it cost us a run. And we end up losing by one run, so it doesn't make your feel any better. Defensive mistakes are pretty big right now. For me, it something that's never happened. It just take that much more of a toll on you."
The Royals' lights-out bullpen protected the lead.
Kelvin Herrera (3-2) worked a spotless seventh, striking out two, to pick up the victory. Wade Davis, who has allowed one earned run in his past 41 innings and 38 appearances, struck out two in a perfect eighth.
Rookie right-hander Yordano Ventura left after 105 pitches and six innings, giving up two runs on six hits and four walks, while striking out five.
Gray (12-6) absorbed the loss, yielding three runs, one of which was unearned, on six hits in seven innings. Escobar's single was the only hit Gray allowed after the second inning.
The Royals seized a 2-0 lead after two innings. Center fielder Dyson and second baseman Omar Infante opened the first with singles, and Dyson advanced to third on Reddick's errant throw. Dyson scored when catcher Salvador Perez grounded into a double play.
In the second, Escobar's two-out single scored left fielder Alex Gordon, who led off with a single.
After holding the Royals to three hits in seven innings in an Aug. 1 start, Gray gave up five hits to the first nine batters he faced Monday.
Oakland tied it in the third when Ventura yielded a single to designated hitter John Jaso and walked center fielder Coco Crisp and Donaldson to load the bases. Moss, who was in a 4-for-45 skid, singled to center on a 2-2 pitch with two outs to score Jaso and Crisp.
NOTES: The Royals acquired OF/DH Josh Willingham from the Minnesota Twins for minor league RHP Jason Adam. Willingham, 35, is hitting .210 with 12 home runs and a .345 on-base percentage in 68 games with the Twins. He hit 35 homers with 110 RBIs in 2012. The Royals will pick up approximately $1.8 million of Willingham's contract for the remainder of the season. Adam, who was recently promoted to Triple-A Omaha, went to Blue Valley Northwest High School, located in a Kansas City suburb. ... Butler was named the AL player of the week after hitting .435 with a .913 slugging percentage in six games. ... A's LHP Jon Lester, who starts Tuesday, is 8-3 with a 1.65 ERA in 12 career starts against the Royals. ... RHP Jeremy Guthrie (8-9) will start for Kansas City on Tuesday.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun