NEW YORK — James Shields knows what this September means to the Kansas City Royals, a team that hasn’t been to the playoffs since many of their players were born.
“Hopefully we can enjoy the moment and embrace it, have fun with it,” he said. They sure will if he keeps pitching the way he did the night of Sept. 5.
Shields took a two-hitter into the ninth inning and Nori Aoki lined a run-scoring single in the third following Chase Headley’s two-base error, leading the Royals over the New York Yankees 1-0.
“You could sense the energy out there, and it is a lot of fun to play in,” first baseman Eric Hosmer said. “Huge win for us. We have to take the first game of every series — that is the goal.”
Kansas City (78-61), which opened a two-game lead over second-place Detroit in the AL Central, is in first place in September for the first time since 1985 — when the Royals won the World Series in their last postseason trip. Kansas City has won four in a row and is 17 games over .500 for the first time since 1989, according to STATS.
Two starts after losing to the Yankees 8-1 in one of his worst outings this season, Shields (13-7) retired his first 11 batters before Brett Gardner’s double in the fourth. Headley singled in the fifth, and Gardner flied out to the right-field warning track in the sixth.
Shields retired 11 straight before Derek Jeter singled softly with one out in the ninth.
“I think that is by far the best game he has thrown all year,” Royals Manager Ned Yost said. “He was surgical with his stuff. He had everything going, his curve, his changeup. He was spotting his fastball. He commanded the pitch count tremendously.”
With closer Greg Holland bothered by triceps tightness, Yost brought in Wade Davis. After pinch-runner Antoan Richardson stole second, Gardner struck out swinging on a 98 mph full-count pitch. Carlos Beltran then took a called third strike, giving Davis his first big league save.
“He was up to the challenge,” Yost said of Davis, who has fanned 92 batters in 62 1-3 innings this season.
New York rarely hit the ball hard against Shields, who induced 12 groundouts. He allowed three hits in 8 1-3 innings, struck out five, walked none and hit a batter with a pitch.
“He pitched way different than the Shields we faced in Kansas City,” Beltran said. “Today he was using a lot of cutters and the changeup away. So basically he kept us off balance all game long.”
New York began the night four games out for the second AL wild card and is in danger of missing the playoffs in consecutive years for the first time since 1992 and ’93.
Michael Pineda (3-4), who has not allowed more than two runs in any of his 10 big league starts this year, has received 18 runs of offensive support in his last 13 outings dating to August 2013.
He was hurt by the Yankees’ defense in the third, when Alcides Escobar hit a hard, one-out grounder that glanced off Headley’s glove at third and into left field. Escobar hustled into second and scored an unearned run two pitches later when Norichika Aoki singled to center.
Pineda was nearly as sharp as Shields, giving up three hits, all singles, in seven innings with no walks.
“To win in New York, 1-0, that is one of the best games of our season,” Escobar said.
(RONALD BLUM, AP Sports Writer)