Royals escape last place by completing sweep of Colorado with 4-2 victory

So long last place.

The Royals’ resurgent run continued Wednesday night in a 4-2 victory over the Colorado Rockies at Kauffman Stadium. The victory completed a three-game sweep and, combined with Cleveland’s loss to the San Francisco, pulled the Royals out of last place in the American League Central Division.

Rookie Luke Hochevar, 5-5, limited the Rockies to two runs and seven hits in pitching a career-high eight innings before Joakim Soria worked the ninth with his usual Mexicutioner efficiency for his 21st save in 22 opportunities.

The Royals have now won five in a row and 10 of their last 11 in improving to 36-43. Most of the gain has come in interleague play: The Royals are 12-3 against National League opponents.

Ross Gload had three of the Royals’ eight hits, including a two-run double in the sixth that pushed the lead to 4-1 and finished Colorado starter Aaron Cook. The Royals got their two other runs in the third on an RBI single by David DeJesus and a sacrifice fly by Alex Gordon.

In beating Cook, the Royals beat one of the National League’s top pitchers. He entered the game with a chance to match Arizona’s Brandon Webb for the league lead in victories.

Instead, Cook fell to 10-5 after allowing four runs and eight hits in 5 1/3 innings.

Hochevar struck out three and walked two in a 95-pitch effort that included 64 strikes and 17 ground-ball outs. He allowed four hits in the second inning but limited the damage to one run.

Colorado got its other run on Brad Hawpe’s leadoff homer in the seventh.

The Royals now have an open date before concluding interleague play this weekend with three games against the Cardinals at Kauffman Stadium. The Royals posted a three-game sweep last week when the teams met in St. Louis.

Colorado, 32-47, opened the scoring after Garrett Atkins and Hawpe started the second inning with successive singles. Clint Barmes grounded into a double play, but Chris Iannetta plugged the right-center gap with an RBI double for a 1-0 lead.

Omar Quintanilla reached on an infield single to deep third, but Hochevar avoided further trouble when Willy Taveras grounded into a fielder’s choice at second.

The Royals got their first hit when Gload opened the third with a slicing double inside the third-base line. Gload went to third on Alberto Callaspo’s grounder to second but stayed put when Joey Gathright reached on a wide throw to first by Atkins at third.

First baseman Todd Helton argued that he tagged Gathright with a swipe — a claim that replays seemed to confirm. That was after the Rockies believed Cook threw two strikes to Gathright that were called balls by umpire Angel Campos.

DeJesus tied the game with an RBI single to right.

Mike Aviles then hit a potential inning-ending, double-play to second, but Quintanilla was in front of the base when he took the flip from Barmes and threw late to first. Everyone was safe, and the bases were loaded. Quintanilla was charged with an error.

That allowed the Royals to take a 2-1 lead on Gordon’s sacrifice fly to deep left.

Colorado finally caught a break when José Guillen’s squibber, which died at the plate, was ruled fair by Campos. Iannetta scooped the ball and threw to first for the final out.

The Royals stirred again in the sixth on one-out singles by Mark Teahen and John Buck. They caught another break there, too. Cook had Teahen picked off, but Quintanilla dropped the throw.

Gload followed with his third hit, a line-hugging double past first that scored both runners for a 4-1 lead.

That knocked out Cook. His 5 1/3 innings marked his second-shortest outing this season in 17 starts; he went five innings on May 15 in an 8-5 loss at Arizona.

Hochevar retired 10 in a row before Hawpe opened the seventh with a homer into the Royals’ bullpen. When Barmes followed with a walk, Hochevar got a visit from pitching coach Bob McClure.

Coincidence, maybe, but Hochevar responded by striking out Iannetta and getting Quintanilla to ground into a double play.

The Rockies got the tying run to the plate again in the eighth after Aviles made a throwing error on Ryan Spilborghs’ one-out grounder. Spilborghs tried for a steal on a 2-2 pitch to Matt Holliday — and got thrown out.

It was first time all year that Buck threw out a base-stealer, breaking a zero-for-23 run of futility. Holliday eventually drew a walk, but Hochevar ended the inning when Helton grounded out to second.

Soria struck out two of three hitters in a brisk ninth.

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