KANSAS CITY, Mo. — About two months ago, Royals starter Danny Duffy ordered a giant version of the tabletop game Connect Four.
Back then, the Royals had become buyers at the trade deadline. They were only a few games behind the Cleveland Indians for the lead in the American League Central. They appeared poised for their third appearance in the playoffs in four years.
Duffy wanted the game to arrive at Kauffman Stadium by October to give his teammates a way to relieve the pressures of a postseason chase.
The package had indeed made it to Kansas City by the time the Royals returned for their final home stand of the season. But as the calendar flipped toward the end of September, the Royals would not have the opportunity to debut the game in a beer-goggles haze. They were eliminated from the wild-card race Tuesday, despite starter Jason Vargas dominating the Tigers in a 2-1 victory here. The Twins defeated the Indians 8-6 moments later.
Vargas faced the minimum through two innings. He issued a one-out walk, then allowed Ian Kinsler to knock in Detroit's only run of the game with two outs. But Vargas wound up limiting the Tigers to five hits in six innings and induced three timely double plays while he was at it.
The Royals produced just enough offense to give Vargas his 18th win of the season.
Tigers starter Anibal Sanchez struck out six and only allowed seven hits in six innings. One of them was Eric Hosmer's single that landed inches in front of left fielder Alex Presley. It was the 189th hit of Hosmer's season. The blooper drove in Whit Merrifield, who'd hit a leadoff double, to tie the game in the fourth inning.
Merrifield drove in Brandon Moss for the go-ahead run on a sacrifice fly to right field in the fifth inning.
It was all the offense the Royals would need, as relievers Kelvin Herrera, Joakim Soria and Mike Minor provided three scoreless innings.
The Royals improved to 77-80.