NEW YORK (AP) Luis Severino opened with a 97 mph fastball on the low, inside corner of the plate, and Alcides Escobar drove it deep to center field.
Jacoby Ellsbury sprinted 107 feet, raised his glove above his head and snagged the ball as his head jarred into the wall. He landed on his back, toppled head over heels to the warning track but held on.
''It set the tone of the game. Escobar is standing on third or it's 1-0 if it comes out of his glove,'' said left fielder Brett Gardner, who ran over to comfort his New York Yankees teammate.
Ellsbury left after the first inning with a concussion and sprained neck that sent him to the disabled list. Severino allowed four hits over eight innings in his finest big league start , a 3-0 win over the Kansas City Royals on Wednesday night that opened a season-high 2 1/2-game AL East lead.
''Not too many people in the game make that play,'' right fielder Aaron Judge said. ''I don't know how he held onto that ball. He hit that fence pretty hard.''
Yankees manager Joe Girardi and head athletic trainer Steve Donohue spoke with Ellsbury during a 90-second delay. Girardi removed the centerfielder's cap while they looked in the outfielder's eyes.
''He felt like it was his neck that was bothering him a little bit. Nothing to do with his head. It was more like a whiplash,'' Girardi said.
Donohue talked to Ellsbury at the end of the half inning, and the Yankees decided to remove the 33-year-old from the game. Doctors then determined Ellsbury sustained a concussion, and he will go on the seven-day concussion disabled list.
''Obviously we're going to miss him for a while now,'' Girardi said. ''He plays hard.''
Ellsbury ran face first into the wall on May 1 catching a fly by Toronto's Ryan Goins, and he missed four starts.
Didi Gregorius homered against Jason Hammel (1-6) leading off the third inning, Gregorius' seventh hit in a span of 12 at-bats. New York tacked on runs with Matt Holliday's sacrifice fly in the sixth and Gardner's RBI single over a drawn-in infield in the seventh.
His fastball reaching 99 mph, Severino (3-2) allowed four hits over eight innings, struck out seven, walked one and threw a career-high 114 pitches. Severino, who lowered his ERA to 3.11, had been 0-1 in four outings since beating Boston on April 26.
''He's pitching the way that we've thought he was capable of pitching,'' Girardi said.
This year has been quite a turnaround for the 23-year-old right-hander, who lasted only seven starts last season before going to the disabled list and then the minors with an 0-6 record and 7.46 ERA.
''I think last year I was trying too much, trying to make the action,'' said Severino, who debuted in August 2015. ''I was commanding all my stuff. I think today was one of my best outings.''
In a sign of maturity, he froze Eric Hosmer with a 3-2 changeup for a strikeout that ended the fourth with a runner on.
''He was lights out tonight, pretty much unhittable,'' said Lorenzo Cain, who was 0 for 4 with three strikeouts on the night.
Dellin Betances, closing while Aroldis Chapman is on the disabled list, struck out the side in a perfect ninth for his fourth save as the Royals were shut out for a major league-high fifth time.
''Chapman's a huge loss for us,'' Betances said. ''I wasn't looking forward to this. I'm just going out there trying to do my job `til Chapman comes back.''
Hammel, working entirely from the stretch for his fourth straight start, gave up three runs, six hits and two walks in six-plus innings. The 34-year-old right-hander, whose 1.69 WHIP is second-worst to Baltimore's Kevin Gausman among qualified starters, had not pitched since allowing five runs over six innings in a 7-1 loss to the Yankees on May 16. He worked between starts on squaring his shoulders and not flying open.
''I'll take it as a step forward,'' Hammel said. ''Obviously a loss is never good, but it's something we can build on.''
A boy about seven rows behind the third-base dugout was hit on the head by part of Chris Carter's bat, which shattered on a seventh-inning grounder. Medical personnel carried out the boy, who appeared to have a leg that was in a brace. Yankees spokesman Jason Zillo said the fan got first aid at the ballpark and was receiving medical attention elsewhere, but did not disclose where.
Gary Sanchez singled leading off the sixth and scored on Holliday's fly after stealing second and advancing on a wild throw by Salvador Perez, the All-Star catcher's first error since Aug. 25 against Miami.
Royals LF Alex Gordon went 1 for 3 with two strikeouts after missing three games for the birth of daughter Joey Lynn.
Royals: RHP Nate Karns was put on the 10-day DL because of nerve irritation in his pitching arm, a move retroactive to Sunday.
Yankees: Chapman (shoulder) hopes to start throwing Saturday.
RHP Masahiro Tanaka (5-3), who has allowed 14 runs and seven homers over 4 2/3 innings in his last two starts, starts for New York in Thursday's series finale. RHP Miguel Almonte makes his first big league start for the Royals following nine relief appearances two years ago.
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