TORONTO -- "Big Game" James Shields delivered when the Royals needed him most, in what was essentially a must-win game for Kansas City. Tasked with preventing a three-game sweep at the hands of the Blue Jays, Shields was dominant, turning in one of his best outings of the year to keep Kansas City's faint playoff hopes alive.
Shields matched a season high with nine strikeouts over seven scoreless innings to help the Royals drop the Blue Jays, 5-0, in front of 22,961 at Rogers Centre on Sunday.
"This win was huge," said Shields, who recorded his 23rd quality start in 29 outings this season. "We are fighting right now, and today was a big game."
Kansas City entered its weekend trip to Toronto on a five-game winning streak, and its confidence was riding sky high. But it stumbled in the first two games of the series, losing by a combined three runs. Manager Ned Yost said a game like Sunday, on the heels of back-to-back losses, is why the Royals acquired a pitcher like Shields.
"We had James Shields on the mound, which couldn't have been a better answer," said Yost.
Shields admitted he's been scoreboard watching as of late, and is well aware of the situation his Royals find themselves in. The club entered Sunday's contest 6 1/2 games out of the final Wild Card spot in the American League. But the 31-year-old said no one on the team has lost faith.
All Shields has to do is remind his club of the 2011 Rays team he played on, which squeaked into the playoffs on the final day of the regular season. The Rays were 8 1/2 games out of the Wild Card on Sept. 1 that year, something Shields has tucked away in the back of his mind.
"As far as experience goes, I think I have it," said Shields, who lowered his team-leading ERA to 3.03. "Anything can happen."
Shields came out blazing, retiring the first 11 batters of the game before Edwin Encarnacion hit a two-out single in the fourth to give the Blue Jays their first baserunner of the contest. The eight-year veteran followed that up by walking Adam Lind to put two runners aboard for Brett Lawrie. But he got Toronto's third baseman to ground out to end the inning.
Toronto managed only one extra-base hit off Shields, a one-out triple by Rajai Davis in the fifth. Shields left him stranded, though, by striking out Anthony Gose and Kevin Pillar to end the threat.
The victory was Shields' 10th of the year -- the seventh consecutive season he has amassed a double-digit win total.
Kansas City's ace, who was pulled after 112 pitches, allowed just three hits and walked one. Shields continued his dominance on the road, improving to 7-0 over his last eight starts, while lowering his ERA to 2.11 away from home -- tops in the AL.
"I started throwing my changeup early, and this team knows me pretty well, obviously," said Shields. "They knew it was coming, and I made a little adjustment at the end of the game and started throwing fastballs later in counts, and tried to get through seven."
It didn't matter if the Blue Jays knew what was coming, as Shields held the opposition scoreless for the fourth time this season, while dropping his ERA to 0.36 at Rogers Centre over his last 25 innings.
"He's always tough," said Blue Jays shortstop Jose Reyes. "He's one of the best pitchers in the game."
Luke Hochevar and closer Greg Holland worked a clean inning each to help the Royals record their 10th shutout of the season, and first since Aug. 16 at Detroit.
Before Shields stole the day, Kansas City's bats pounded on Blue Jays starter J.A. Happ. After plating one run in the first, the Royals erupted during a four-run third inning.
Kansas City's first five hitters reached base, as it took a 3-0 advantage after Alex Gordon and Emilio Bonifacio hit back-to-back RBI singles. Eric Hosmer, who cashed the first run of the game on a groundout, delivered the final blow of the inning with a two-run single to put Kansas City up, 5-0.
Hosmer finished the game 2-for-5 -- his third consecutive multi-hit game -- with three RBIs, and has reached base safely in 13 consecutive contests.
Happ lasted only four innings, allowing five runs (three earned) while walking one and striking out three. Relievers Chad Jenkins, Neil Wagner, and Dustin McGowan combined to throw five scoreless innings of relief after Happ exited.
Kansas City continued its assault on the basepaths, swiping four bases against the Blue Jays to up its Major League-leading total to 126. Bonifacio and Jarrod Dyson stole two bases apiece.
"The running game is routine for me and Emilio," said Dyson, who increased his team-leading total to 29 on the year. "If we get on base, everybody knows we are going at some point. We aren't just going to sit over there and hang out."
Bonifacio, whom the Blue Jays traded to the Royals in mid-August, had a big series against his former team, going 4-for-11 (.364) with three runs scored, two RBIs, and three stolen bases after his two-hit performance on Sunday.
"Not just Toronto, I want to do well against every team," said Bonifacio. "I felt good at the plate, and it was fun to get a win."
With the victory, the Royals concluded their six-game road trip with a 4-2 record. The club will begin a seven-game homestand on Monday against the Mariners.
Chris Toman is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.