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Royals salvage shutout with play at the plate in ninth

  • Kansas City Star
  • Published Saturday, Sep. 14, 2013, at 8:53 p.m.
  • Updated Thursday, Nov. 14, 2013, at 5:45 p.m.

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— There’s no telling, of course, what the next two-plus weeks hold for the Royals in what remains a long-shot quest to reach the postseason for the first time in 28 years.

But … if destiny ultimately beckons, bookmark Saturday night’s 1-0 victory over the Detroit Tigers, which ended when catcher Salvy Perez executed a blind grab on a throw before applying the tag at the plate.

“I threw the ball to home plate,” shortstop Alcides Escobar said. “I just wanted to get it there. But when I threw the ball, I thought, ‘It’s going to hit Prince (Fielder).’ He’s a big guy.

“The throw was on the other side of the runner, and Salvy … wow. That’s Salvy’s play. That’s all him. All credit to Salvy. Two good throws, and one great play.”

All that and maybe more.

Perez said he couldn’t see the ball as Fielder charged toward the plate while trying to score from first base after Omar Infante ripped a two-out drive into the corner in left. Escobar took the relay from Alex Gordon.

“I saw Esky throw the ball,” Perez said. “It was a little sinker. And then I couldn’t see the ball (around Fielder), but I knew where the ball was going.

“The ball went behind Fielder. I just put my glove out there and hoped for a short hop. It went into my glove, and I reached back and tagged him.”

Game over.

“You can’t ask for a much better game than that,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “They made the play.”

OK, let’s back up and reset.

Eric Hosmer’s RBI triple in the first inning against Detroit starter Doug Fister produced a quick lead for Ervin Santana, who shook off a skid of seven winless starts by handcuffing the Tigers into the seventh inning.

Will Smith stranded runners at second and third after replacing Santana with two outs. Luke Hochevar then pitched around Torii Hunter’s two-out double in the eighth by retiring Miguel Cabrera on a grounder.

That got the game to Greg Holland, who opened the ninth inning by walking Fielder before retiring the next two hitters. Infante then yanked a ball into the left-field corner as Fielder rumbled around the bases.

“The only thing I kept thinking,” manager Ned Yost said, “was, ‘Get the ball, Gordy. Get the ball to Esky.’ And then I saw Fielder coming around third and thought, ‘Esky, throw a strike to Sal.’

“It was tough. Sal was blocked. He made a great pick and great tag. And the next thing I could think of was, ‘Elizabeth, I’m coming, honey. I’m coming. Get ready for me.’ ”

That’s right. “Sanford and Son” humor.

“I was right in front of the plate when it happened,” Hosmer said. “I don’t know what I was doing there. That was the craziest play I’ve been involved in, and then you think how important this game was for us.

“I’ve never seen a play like that.”

The victory boosted the Royals to 78-70 and moved them, temporarily, within three games of Tampa Bay for the American League’s final wild-card spot. So, yes, the hurdle remains considerable.

“This was a huge win for us,” Yost said. “We had to have this win tonight. I mean, we haven’t had a ballgame all year where we had to win. Tonight was it. We had to win this ballgame.

“The manner and fashion that we won it was pretty exciting.”

Santana, 9-9, got the victory after limiting the Tigers to five hits in 62/3 innings. Holland got his 43rd save, which matched Joakim Soria (2010) for the fourth-highest total in club history.

Fister, 12-9, was a tough-luck loser after yielding just one run in 72/3 innings. That lone run came in the first inning after Gordon’s leadoff single. Hosmer drove a one-out triple over the head of center fielder Austin Jackson.

That was it.

Santana pretty much breezed through the first six innings but yielded successive one-out singles in the seventh to Victor Martinez and Andy Dirks, which marked the first time the Tigers put multiple runners on base.

Escobar got the second out by ranging into the hole on Infante’s grounder, but the runners advanced to second and third. Although Santana had thrown only 83 pitches, Yost chose to bring in Smith.

“We’ve got the best bullpen in baseball,” Yost said, “and we’ve got 15 games left going into (Saturday). (Santana) was in the seventh inning with two outs. I figured he did his job.”

Leyland countered by sending up Nick Castellanos to bat for Alex Avila to avoid a lefty-on-lefty matchup, but Smith held the lead by retiring Castellanos on a fly to center.

The Royals put their first two hitters on base in the eighth when Chris Getz walked and Hosmer followed with a bunt single. Billy Butler then sent a sinking liner to right.

Hunter charged in for the catch and, when Getz tagged and tried to advance, righted himself and threw a dart to third for a double play.

Fister then walked Perez, which prompted the Tigers to go to their bullpen for José Alvarez for a lefty-on-lefty matchup with Mike Moustakas, who flied out to center.

Hochevar replaced Smith to start the Detroit eighth. He got two quick outs before yielding a double to Hunter that hugged the left-field line. The Royals opted to pitch to Cabrera with a a base open and Fielder on deck.

“It’s basically you pick your poison there,” Hochevar said. “I’m just trying to make a perfect pitch. If I miss, it misses. I’m not challenging him.”

Cabrera hit a first-pitch grounder to second for the final out. That got the game to Holland for a garrison finish.

Leyland said he “never” considered inserting a pinch runner for Fielder.

“That took really two good plays to get him,” Leyland said. “You're not going to get many hits off that guy (Holland). With two out it was a no-brainer (to send Fielder).

“They executed that play to perfection. When I saw the throw home come in, I thought Perez might get a bad hop. He made a terrific pick of that ball on the tag. Terrific.”

All that and maybe more.

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