Kansas City, MO (SportsNetwork.com) - Alcides Escobar singled in Nori Aoki with the tie-breaking run in the seventh inning and the Kansas City Royals moved into first place in the AL Central with a 3-2 victory over the Oakland Athletics.
The Royals, winners of eight in a row, are in first place by themselves this late in a season for the first time since Aug. 29, 2003. They moved a half- game ahead of the Detroit Tigers, who lost in Pittsburgh Monday night. KC was eight games out of first place on July 21, but now they're back on top for the first time since June 20.
They are 11 games over .500 for the first time since July 27, 2003. That season, the Royals finished 83-79 and in third place in their division.
Yordano Ventura gave up two hits and as many runs over the first six innings for the Royals. Kelvin Herrera (3-2) struck out a pair of batters in the seventh and Greg Holland escaped a shaky ninth by getting a huge double-play ball off the bat of Derek Norris. Holland retired Stephen Vogt on a fly ball to center to secure his AL-leading 35th save.
Aoki was pinch-running for Raul Ibanez, who reached base via fielder's choice in the seventh inning. Aoki went to second on a groundout from Mike Moustakas, then raced home on Escobar's liner to center.
"We're capitalizing on just about every opportunity we get right now," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "It's fun to watch."
Wade Davis struck out a pair in a 1-2-3 top of the eighth before Holland worked out of trouble. Josh Donaldson singled and went to second on a wild pitch before Brandon Moss walked. Norris, though, hit the ball squarely to Moustakas at third and he threw across the diamond.
The Royals made a trade Monday. They acquired outfielder Josh Willingham from the Minnesota Twins in exchange for minor league pitcher Jason Adam. The Royals also waived pitcher Wilking Rodriguez.
"I think it fills that last big hole," Yost said of Willingham.
Moss had a two-run single to center with the bases full in the third inning, but the AL West leaders lost their second straight to open this four-game series.
Sonny Gray (12-6) gave up six hits and three runs -- two earned -- over seven innings to suffer his third consecutive loss.
"Two good teams going at it, it's always going to be one mistake. Unfortunately for us, I'm the one that made that mistake tonight," Gray said.
Kansas City's first run came off a double-play grounder from Salvador Perez in the first inning, after Jarrod Dyson advanced to third on a throwing error from Josh Reddick.
Escobar singled in Alex Gordon in the second for a 2-0 margin.
"We're going to try and hold onto it," Dyson said of being in first place. "We're trying to make that playoff push. We can't get caught up in what Detroit's doing and whoever is behind us."
The 35-year-old Willingham hit .210 with 12 homers and 34 RBI in 68 games for the Twins this season ... Kansas City has won 16 of its last 19 games overall and six in a row at home. The Royals hold a 3-1 lead over the A's this season ... Herrera has worked 17 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings ... Oakland's Ryan Cook extended his scoreless stretch to 19 innings, the longest active streak in the majors.