KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The St. Louis Cardinals scored so many times off Jason Vargas and the Kansas City bullpen in the fifth inning Tuesday night that they broke the Royals’ crown-shaped scoreboard.
Or maybe it was just a coincidence that the massive outfield video screen suddenly went dark.
Regardless, the malfunction saved Royals fans from having to watch the runs pile up. Yadier Molina, Jedd Gyorko and Randal Grichuk each went deep, and the Cardinals pounded out 14 hits in a 10-3 victory — the fourth straight for the suddenly serious NL Central contenders.
“You never know what the key is. If you did, you’d never put it away,” said Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, whose team began the night 3 1/2 games behind the division-leading Chicago Cubs.
Michael Wacha (9-4) allowed a three-run double to Cheslor Cuthbert but otherwise kept the Royals in check, surrendering six hits over six innings to win for the sixth time in seven decisions.
His life was made easier by the run support: St. Louis has scored 38 times in the last four games .
“The ball started falling. I don’t see it any different,” said Molina, who finished with three RBI. “We hit the ball hard and the ball wasn’t finding holes. Now it’s finding holes.”
Finding the way over the wall, too. Grichuk and Gyorko connected off Vargas (13-6) to highlight the six-run fifth , when the scoreboard at Kauffman Stadium suddenly went dark. It remained that way until the seventh, when about half of it blinked back online and the Cardinals were tacking on runs.
“It was one I felt like I let get away from the team right there in that fifth inning,” Vargas said. “Some weird things happened, but with Cheslor coming up big in the half inning before, there’s just got to be a stop put to that inning, regardless of what happens.”
Cuthbert’s knock down the left-field line staked Vargas to a 3-1 lead, but the left-hander responded with the kind of outing that’s become common since his All-Star appearance last month.
Grichuk homered to begin the fifth for St. Louis, and Vargas hit Matt Carpenter before allowing a single to Tommy Pham. Vargas also threw two wild pitches to put runners on second and third, then he walked Jose Martinez before giving up Molina’s go-ahead single.
Dexter Fowler doubled to right to chase Vargas from the game, but reliever Mike Minor was unable to stop the cascade of runs. Gyorko pounded his 2-2 pitch an estimated 420 feet over the left-field bullpen to give the Cardinals a 7-3 lead and close the book on Vargas’s latest miserable outing.
He was 12-3 with a 2.22 ERA at the end of June. He’s 1-4 with a 7.62 ERA in six starts since.
“He started out good,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “The fifth inning was just a strange inning.”
Vargas’s downturn has coincided with a slump by the Royals, who made a series of trades in late July with an eye on contending for the AL Central. Instead, they’ve dropped seven of the last nine to fall off the division-leading Cleveland Indians’ pace.
“Looking at the standings aren’t as big of a deal,” Vargas said. “The guys in here have been through way bigger lows and way higher highs than this. I don’t think anybody is too concerned.”
Three-time All-Star Alex Gordon was benched and LF Melky Cabrera started in his place as the Royals tried to find more offense. Gordon has struggled mightily in the second year of a $72 million, four-year contract, hitting just .197 with five homers and 34 RBI in 100 games.
The Royals reinstated Cuthbert (sprained left wrist) from the DL and optioned INF Ramon Torres to Triple-A Omaha. Cuthbert started at third base while All-Star Mike Moustakas was the DH, allowing him to rest a sore knee without taking his bat out of the lineup.
Matheny spent pregame praising Pham, who was diagnosed with a degenerative eye condition called keratoconus in 2008. Pham underwent a breakthrough surgery that halted the erosion and has cycled through a variety of contact lenses looking for the right fit.
“We’ve seen flashes of brilliance over the last couple of seasons from Tommy. This is the season he’s been able to maintain,” Matheny said. “I think that has a lot to do with the physical issue.”
The Cardinals send RHP Mike Leake to the mound and the Royals counter with RHP Trevor Cahill when the series shifts to St. Louis on Wednesday night. Cahill has struggled in his first two starts for the Royals since arriving in a trade with the San Diego Padres last month.