ARLINGTON, Texas — Ned Yost scoffed at the idea that the Kansas City Royals were worn out at the end of a long road trip.
"Everybody’s full of life," the manager said. "We’re in a pennant race, man."
The Royals are headed home with a two-game lead over Detroit in the AL Central, even after a 3-1 loss Sunday to the Texas Rangers.
"It stings a little bit. You win two out of three here, but you had a chance to sweep," said Billy Butler, whose ninth homer accounted for the only Royals run. "If it was the other way around, you lose the first one and win the last two, it’s a little bit different mentality. Our goal is to win series. We’ve done that."
Kansas City began the series with consecutive 6-3 victories, part of 24 wins in the best 30-game stretch in team history. The Royals, who also took three of four at Minnesota before a two-game split at Colorado, play 20 of their next 26 games at home.
"Keep winning series, and we’re going to be OK," Yost said.
Scott Baker (2-3) went five innings in a spot start to win as a starter for the first time in more than three years. He missed all of 2012 after Tommy John surgery with Minnesota, and made only three starts at the end of last season for the Chicago Cubs.
"It’s still special because of the road that I’ve had to endure as far as injuries," said Baker, who earned a win in relief in his previous appearance on Aug. 12. "It’s fun, regardless of whether you’re a starter or a reliever."
Adrian Beltre put Texas ahead to stay with an RBI double in the first. Beltre had his fifth straight mulithit game, including all three games in this series to extend his hitting streak against the Royals to 17 games.
Neftali Feliz worked the ninth for his sixth save in seven chances since reassuming the closer role a month ago after Joakim Soria was traded to Detroit.
Texas had five doubles off Jason Vargas (10-6), including a run-scoring hit for Adam Rosales in the second. Alex Rios had a leadoff double in the third, and scored on a single by Robinson Chirinos.
Chirinos started after catcher Geovany Soto was a late scratch. The Rangers announced during the game that Soto was traded to Oakland for cash.
Vargas (10-6) allowed 11 hits and walked four in his six innings, but gave up only three runs. The left-hander had walked only one in 25 1/3 innings previously this month.
"It was a start that he really had to grind out. He didn’t have any clean innings," Yost said. "I thought he did a phenomenal job of keeping us in the game, getting us through six innings. Very, very tight strike zone, which doesn’t play to his advantage."
POP — GOES THE BASEBALL
Baker induced five popups for outs in his first three innings, and one of the hits he gave up was a bloop single. "We mishit some balls," Butler said. "That’s what he thrives on, basically came right at us with fastball, slider. Induced a lot of popups."
Royals: 1B Eric Hosmer missed his 22nd game because of the stress fracture in his right hand after getting hit by a pitch July 20. He is scheduled for another X-ray Monday when the Royals get home, and that could clear him to start swinging a bat again.
Rangers: LHP Derek Holland, scratched from his scheduled rehab start Sunday because of a muscle spasm in his back, said he was feeling better. Holland hasn’t pitched in the majors since left knee surgery during the offseason.
Royals: Kansas City starts a 10-game homestand on what originally was a scheduled day off Monday. James Shields (12-6) pitches for the Royals against the New York Yankees in the makeup of a game postponed June 9 because of rain. They then have three-game series against Minnesota, Cleveland and Texas.
Rangers: Texas plays Monday night at Seattle in the opener of a 10-game trip before the Rangers play 17 of their last 23 games at home. Mikolas (1-5) starts the opener against the Mariners.