CLEVELAND | Royals manager Trey Hillman was in no mood to handle second guesses Wednesday night on his decision to pull starter Gil Meche after his bullpen imploded in an 8-5 loss to the Cleveland Indians.
"Easy to second guess?" Hillman parried. "Well, he’s over 100 pitches. It’s late in the season. He’s not going to have any extra rest. We’re already falling apart with our rotation.
"I don’t understand why there would be second guessing. It’s a no-brainer for me. But if people want to second guess that decision, that’s fine."
Let’s back up.
Meche was at 104 pitches and had retired 17 straight hitters when told he was done. The Royals led 5-3 at the time, and Meche had allowed just one earned run.
"I felt good," Meche said. "I felt fine."
The decision couldn’t have turned out worse.
The Indians struck for five runs in the eighth inning against Ramon Ramirez and usually impregnable Joakim Soria. The crushing blow was a three-run homer that Soria, 1-3, surrendered to Franklin Gutierrez. "Any time you snap one away late like that," Indians manager Eric Wedge said, "it feels good."
Cleveland managed just five hits but four left the park, including Gutierrez’s no-doubt bomb. The Mexicutioner suffered his third blown save in 36 opportunities.
"Any time I go on the mound," Soria said, "I’m trying to do my best. If they hit me, they hit me with my best that I can do that night. That’s it. I’m not a machine. I’m not perfect. Sometimes, that is going to happen."
Soria matched a career high by allowing three runs.
Juan Rincon, 3-3, got the victory for pitching a one-two-three eighth in relief of starter Zach Jackson. Jensen Lewis closed the victory for his fourth save.
It was an appalling loss for the Royals even by the standards of their ongoing collapse. They have now lost 11 of their last 13 in falling to 55-71. They are also 1-7 on a road trip that concludes today against 17-2 Cliff Lee.
"You can’t lose ballgames like that," catcher John Buck said. "You just can’t."
The Royals had won Meche’s last eight starts — which represent exactly half of their total victories since July 6. Going back further, they had won 11 of his previous 12 starts since June 15.
They should have won this one.
Meche allowed two hits in seven innings while striking out nine and walking one. He gave up a two-run homer in the first inning to Jhonny Peralta after an error by third baseman Alex Gordon extended the inning.
Kelly Shoppach’s one-out homer boosted Cleveland’s lead to 3-1 in the second inning before Meche went into shutdown mode. He started the seventh inning by striking out Peralta with a 95-mph fastball on his 94th pitch.
The Royals erased their two-run deficit by scoring four times in a scary fifth inning. Gordon and Buck led off with singles before Jackson hit Mitch Maier in the face with a high-and-tight fastball.
Maier had squared to bunt and was struck flush on the right cheek. He left the game under his own power with a towel held to his face to staunch the blood from his nose.
It was only later that X-rays showed he had suffered three broken facial bones. Fortunately, all three were non-displaced fractures. No surgery appears likely, and initial tests show Maier’s vision is fine.
When play resumed, Mike Aviles rammed Jackson’s first pitch into the left-center gap for a three-run double. Aviles held second on Esteban German’s fly to right but stole third when David DeJesus swung through an 0-2 slider.
Aviles came home when Shoppach’s throw went into left field. The Royals led 5-3, and Meche protected that lead through the seventh on a cool night with temperatures falling into the low 60s.
Everything changed when Hillman went to the bullpen.
The Indians struck immediately against Ramirez, who has been batting a sore right forearm. Shoppach led off with his second homer of the game. Pinch-hitter Shin-Soo Choo drew a walk and moved to second on Asdrubal Cabrera’s sacrifice bunt.
Hillman insisted Ramirez is healthy.
"His velocities are the same on his fastball and on his changeup and on his slider," Hillman said. "He’s not experiencing any pain. He’s had plenty of time off. He just didn’t execute and locate pitches."
Soria entered the game with the tying run at second and the top of the order coming up — and he just didn’t have it. Grady Sizemore worked a walk before Gutierrez pounded an 0-1 fastball deep over the left-field wall.
"(Soria) has been outstanding," Hillman said. "It was all set up with the home run and the walk. That put them in a situation where they very easily sacrificed the tying run to second base.
"With the pitching moves today, I wouldn’t have done anything different. It just didn’t work out."