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Royals back on winning track with 5-3 victory over Giants

File this one under harder than it had to be. Cross-reference it, perhaps, under had to have. But file it under the win column, too. The Royals evened their three-game series Saturday night against the San Francisco Giants with a 5-3 victory at Kauffman Stadium.

Gil Meche was in top form early, retiring the first 10 batters, before fueling his own exit in the sixth inning with a costly throwing error that helped trim a 3-0 lead to 3-2.

A little tense, then — especially since the Royals blew a 4-0 lead in Friday’s 9-4 loss.

José Guillen halted the slide this time with a booming two-run homer in the seventh inning against reliever Billy Sadler. Guillen’s homer was his 12th of the season and followed a one-out walk by Alex Hinshaw to Alex Gordon.

Sadler tested Guillen with four straight fastballs, and Guillen pumped the last one 422 feet over the left-field wall to carom off the base of the fountains for a 5-2 lead.

That meant the Royals were just three outs away from Joakim Soria in the ninth, but those, too, didn’t come easily.

Ramon Ramirez worked himself into a quick jam in the eighth inning by issuing a leadoff walk to Ray Durham after being ahead 1-2 in the count. Durham went to second on a passed ball, before first baseman Ross Gload helped Ramirez by snagging a hard grounder by Randy Winn.

Durham went to third on the play, then scored on a sacrifice fly by Bengie Molina, but Gload’s play kept the inning from getting out of hand.

Soria pitched a one-two-three ninth for his 19th save in 20 opportunities. The Royals now head into Sunday’s series finale against Giants ace Tim Lincecum knowing, at worst, they can’t get swept.

Meche, 5-8, got his second straight victory after giving up two runs and three hits in 5 2/3 innings. One of the runs was unearned, which enabled him to trim his ERA to 4.91 — the first time it’s been below 5.00 since early April.

The Royals also won for the sixth time in seven games in improving to 32-43. They pulled to within 9½ games of first-place Chicago in the American League Central Division. They haven’t that close to the top since June 4.

Giants starter Kevin Correiga, 1-5, lasted just five innings before departing after allowing three runs and six hits.

Mike Aviles had three of the Royals’ seven hits, including a two-run single in the fourth that extended the lead to 3-0. Guillen also had two hits.

The Giants didn’t get their first hit until Rich Aurilia punched a one-out single back through the middle in the fifth. Meche pitched around that but found serious trouble in the sixth.

Successive singles by Fred Lewis and Durham brought the tying run to the plate with no outs. Lewis’ single extended his hitting streak to a career-high 11 games.

Meche got Winn to hit a potential double-play hopper back to the mound, but Meche threw the ball into center field. Lewis scored. Durham reached third. Winn was safe at first. And the Giants still had no outs.

Molina followed with a sacrifice fly, and the lead was down to 3-2. Meche retired Rowand on a fly to right, and manager Trey Hillman called on reliever Ron Mahay for a lefty-lefty matchup against John Bowker.

That didn’t work. Bowker punched a hit-and-run single up the middle. Winn went to third. Mahay stopped it there; Aurilia flied to right.

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