KANSAS CITY, Mo. —The news regarding Mike Moustakas' pending arrival pulled the spotlight away from the drama surrounding Joakim Soria's first save opportunity since reclaiming his job as the Royals' closer.
That's understandable, perhaps, but Soria put everyone on edge Thursday before securing a 3-2 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays by escaping from a bases-loaded jam in the ninth inning at Kauffman Stadium.
"It's never easy," he said. "The last couple of outings (in non-save situations), I was pitching well. This was a tough one, but we got the win. That's all that matters."
Soria's first save since May 20 also enabled Luke Hochevar, who worked seven strong innings, to gain his first victory in seven starts dating to May 1.
None of it was easy.
"That's how we wanted it," laughed right fielder Jeff Francoeur, whose two-run single capped a three-run third inning that gave the Royals a 3-0 lead. "We wanted to send these fans out with a nice, tense game before we leave town."
Soria began the ninth by retiring Aaron Hill on a fly to center field before Edwin Encarnacion lashed a single through the left side. Pinch-hitter Juan Rivera fell behind 0-2 but worked the count full before lining a single to left that moved Encarnacion to second.
Soria struck out Jayson Nix on three pitches, including a 69-mph curve for a swinging strike three, and jumped ahead 0-2 on Mike McCoy. But four straight balls loaded the bases and put the crowd of 13,941 on edge.
"I never doubted my stuff," said Soria, who blew three straight save opportunities before temporarily losing his job. "It's just the way it is in baseball. Sometimes, baseball gives you an easy one; sometimes, it gives you a hard one."
Finally, Soria ended the game by retiring Corey Patterson on a pop to third.
"It was good to get that monkey off of Jack's back," manager Ned Yost said, "and get that first save after all of that mess that he's been through. Let him get on a good roll."
The victory enabled the Royals to salvage a split in their four-game series against Toronto after suffering a miserable four-game sweep last weekend against an injury-depleted Minnesota.
Two victories in three games against the Angels left the Royals at 4-7 on their longest homestand of the season. Moustakas is scheduled to join them tonight when they open a three-game weekend series against the Angels in Anaheim, Calif.
Hochevar (4-6) rebounded from three shaky starts by limiting the Blue Jays to two runs and six hits in seven innings. He was one should-have-been double play away from seven scoreless innings.
"I had a comfort zone today," he said. "I was trying to induce contact early in the count. They were hitting on the ground, and our defense came up big."
Mostly, it did. The Royals produced three inning-ending double plays behind Hochevar, but it was one they didn't execute that nearly turned the game around in the Toronto fourth.
The Royals led 3-0 when Jose Bautista pulled a sharp one-out grounder to third with a runner on first. It should have ended the inning, but Mike Aviles failed to position himself for a throw to first as McCoy came into the base.
It meant the Royals settled for one run, and the Blue Jays jumped all over the opportunity.
Adam Lind lined a single to center, and J.P. Arencibia followed with a two-run triple off the left-field wall just beyond the reach of a leaping Mitch Maier, who started when Yost opted to rest Alex Gordon.
"The wall curves there," Maier said, "and the ball hit right in front of my glove on the pad. I felt I was right on it. I guess I just ran out of room. I felt I was going to catch it."
Hochevar then walked Hill before retiring Encarnacion on a soft fly to center. Cost for failing to execute the double play: two runs and 17 extra pitches for Hochevar. (Aviles was optioned to Omaha after the game to clear space for Moustakas.)
"We have a real knack for keeping it real interesting," Yost said. "We did that just about all day. Jack did it. Crow did it. Luke did it on occasion, but they got the job done. And that's what is important."