It was anything but quick, clean or easy, but the Royals halted their five-game losing streak early Saturday morning with a 4-3 victory over the New York Yankees at Kauffman Stadium.
The Royals survived two rain delays and a boatload of defensive breakdowns before Joakim Soria closed out the victory by retiring Robinson Cano on a grounder to second with runners on first and third.
“It’s never easy,” Soria said.
Not lately, anyway.
Soria set a club record with his 25th straight consecutive successful save, which broke Jeff Montgomery’s run of 24 in a row in 1993. It was Soria’s 32nd save overall in 34 opportunities.
“He’s as cool and calm as they get,” said catcher Jason Kendall, who made things tougher by dropping a foul pop for an error in the ninth inning. “He’s got something special. It’s his mentality. You can’t get rattled (as a closer), and he never is.”
Rains forced a 31-minute halt with the game tied 3-3 before the Royals batted in the third inning. There was a delay of 2 hours, 10 minutes shortly after the Royals took a 4-3 lead in the fifth inning against New York starter Dustin Moseley.
Billy Butler hit a slicing one-out homer that struck the right-field foul pole.
“I knew I hit it well,” he said, “but you never know at the K. I thought it was a double off the bat, but I knew it had a chance.”
That one run held up.
“You can’t (gripe) about it,” Kendall said. “I’ll wait 10 hours here for a win.”
Soria began the ninth inning by surrendering a single to Derek Jeter before retiring Curtis Granderson on a fly to deep left field.
Kendall then slipped on the wet grass in chasing after a routine foul pop by Mark Teixeria – and dropped the ball for an error.
Soria responded by striking out Teixeira.
Alex Rodriguez prolonged the inning by grounding a single into center that moved Jeter to third base. But Soria secured the victory by retiring Cano on a grounder to second.
Kyle Davies, 6-7, got the victory by working the necessary five innings before departing because of the second rain delay. Jesse Chavez and Blake Wood got the game to Soria.
“Our bullpen did a great job,” Davies said. “Billy hit the homer to put me ahead and make me the winner, but the whole team won the game. Especially the bullpen. That’s not an easy lineup to go through and put up four zeroes. And they did it with a one-run lead.”
The Royals sure made it hard on themselves. They committed two errors, probably should have had a third and stumbled through two other costly defensive misplays.
“We’re battling ourselves,” Butler agreed. “It seems we can’t make anything easy right now. But heck, a win is a win. Now, let’s move on and see if we can get two in a row.”
Yuniesky Betancourt’s two-run double helped the Royals jump to a 3-0 lead against Moseley, 2-2, in the second inning. But the Yankees answered immediately with three runs in the third – aided by two misplays.
Second baseman Mike Aviles bobbled Rodriguez’s grounder, which was scored a single, and Davies broke late from the mound and couldn’t locate first base for what would have been an inning-ending double play.
Wood then survived his infield’s attempts at sabotage in the eighth. First, third baseman Wilson Betemit booted Jorge Posada’s leadoff grounder for an error. Wood retired Lance Berkman on a fly to left and picked off pinch-runner Ramiro Peña – but the Royals botched the rundown.
Betancourt came too far toward first base and Butler held the ball too long while chasing Peña toward second. Peña got past Betancourt before the throw arrived from Butler for a successful steal.
Wood pitched around it by striking out pinch-hitter Nick Swisher and retiring Brett Gardner on a grounder to first.
It amounted to a bit of payback for Wood, who allowed seven runs in one inning over two appearances against the Yankees in New York.
“I wasn’t even thinking about that,” he said, “but on the other hand, it was nice to get revenge. After I had that rough New York series, I decided to change my mentality. To just play the game and not get flustered.”
In short, to emulate Soria.
“There’s a lot to learn from him,” Wood said. “He’s the same guy every day. He goes right at guys no matter what the situation is. He never gets flustered, but that comes with experience.
“And going through that rough patch, as bad as it sucked, it definitely taught me a lot.”
Soria put on another lesson in the ninth by working around Kendall’s error and the two singles for his record-breaking save.
Oddly, Montgomery’s streak ended on Aug. 13, 1993, when he failed to hold a two-run lead in the eighth inning in Chicago.
“The record,” Soria said, “is a good thing for me and the Royals. But you have to see it as just another number. You have to go after the next one.”