MINNEAPOLIS (AP) From the way Jason Vargas hung in there after taking a line drive to the groin to the way Ned Yost aggressively managed his bullpen, the Kansas City Royals weren't treating this matchup against the Minnesota Twins like just another early June series.
Vargas threw six shutout innings and Kendrys Morales hit a long home run against his former team to push the Royals to a 3-1 victory over the Twins on Monday night.
Vargas (5-2) gave up five hits and struck out two, Morales hit a two-run shot in the second inning and Eric Hosmer drove in another run in the eighth to move the AL champion Royals (32-23) ahead of the Twins (33-24) by percentage points for first place in the AL Central. Greg Holland got his 10th save in 11 chances.
''We're treating it as a big series,'' Hosmer said. ''It's a team that's at the top of the division right now. They're playing good baseball. That's how seasons work. When a team is hot and a team is going through a scuffle, if we come and win a series here it can get us going.''
Phil Hughes (4-6) had one of his strongest outings of the season for the Twins, but didn't get enough from his offense. Hughes gave up three runs on seven hits and struck out three.
Eddie Rosario had two hits, including a solo homer, for Minnesota.
Yost moved past Dick Howser into second on the franchise's career victories list with 405. He needs six more to surpass Whitey Herzog for first place.
Coming off their inspiring run to the World Series last season, the Royals started this year with 28 wins in their first 42 games and parlayed that success into a boon at the All-Star ballot box. In voting results released Monday, the Royals had seven players leading their positions, which would be a record if it holds up into the game in Cincinnati on July 14.
They went through a 2-9 slide that ended with a victory over Texas on Sunday and came into Target Field to start a three-game series one game behind the division-leading Twins, and Yost followed the script that has been so successful.
Vargas breezed through six innings, needing just 70 pitches to carve up the Twins, who only got one runner past second base. But with Vargas feeling a little fatigued, Yost still went to his lights-out bullpen to start the seventh, and Ryan Madson gave up a homer to Rosario to cut the lead to 2-1.
Vargas took a line drive off the bat of Aaron Hicks to the midsection in the fifth inning, but he remained in the game and went another 1 1-3 innings after that play before giving way to Madson, who struck out Brian Dozier with two runners on to end the seventh.
''We saw last year and it's continued this year, they're a very difficult team to come back in the last third of the ballgame,'' Twins manager Paul Molitor said. ''They know how to close it out. They have people that can do it consistently. It's been a good formula for success for them.''
The Twins also failed to capitalize in the third inning when Torii Hunter grounded into an inning-ending double play with the bases loaded.
''We obviously haven't been firing on all cylinders like we were early in the season,'' Vargas said. ''For us to come out and win a ballgame playing tight, aggressive baseball is huge for us.''
The Royals selected right-hander Ashe Russell with the 21st overall pick in the first round on Monday night. Russell went 4-1 with a 1.23 ERA to lead Cathedral High School in Indianapolis into the sectional tournament.
Royals: Backup C Aaron Kratz is set to finish a rehab assignment with Triple-A Omaha on Tuesday. That's when the Royals will have to decide between Kratz and Drew Butera, who has hit .133 in seven games with the team. Both Kratz and Butera are out of minor league options.
The Twins send RHP Trevor May (4-3, 4.45) to the mound to face RHP Chris Young (4-2, 2.56) in Game 2. May is coming off his best outing of the season, seven shutout innings with nine strikeouts in a win in Boston. Young has lost two straight starts and given up 10 runs in his last 11 innings pitched.