Royals rookie Luke Hochevar got his first big-league victory Saturday night by pitching six strong innings in a tight, tense 2-1 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays at Kauffman Stadium.
The Royals, 11-13, have now won two in a row since breaking a seven-game skid. They will go for a three-game sweep in Sunday’s series finale.
José Guillen delivered the winning run with a leadoff homer in the sixth against Toronto starter Shaun Marcum. Guillen broke a 1-1 tie by hooking a 2-2 slider and keeping it just fair down as it sailed high down the left-field line.
The Royals needed a sparkling defensive play by shortstop Tony Peña to protect their lead in the eighth. Peña was on his knees when he threw out Adam Lind for the final out after Toronto loaded the bases.
Joakim Soria pitched around David Eckstein’s one-out single in securing his sixth save in six opportunities. Soria has not allowed a run in 10 innings over 10 appearances. He had retired 24 straight batters before Eckstein’s single.
Hochevar, 1-1, pitched around trouble throughout his six innings but limited the Blue Jays to just one run. He handed a 2-1 lead to reliever Ron Mahay to start the seventh.
Mahay worked around a one-out walk in his only inning.
Leo Nuñez, who blew a save in Friday’s victory, had more trouble when he began the eighth with a four-pitch walk to Alex Rios. A one-out single by Matt Stairs sent Rios to third and finished Nuñez.
Ramon Ramirez struck out Scott Rolen on a nasty low-and-away fastball before loading the bases with a walk to Lyle Overbay. Ramirez then stranded all three runners when Peña produced his game-saving web gem on Lind’s grounder.
Peña’s play atoned for an earlier error that helped Toronto score its only run.
Marcum, 2-2, kept the Royals under wraps, as usual, as he yielded just two runs and four hits in seven innings. He has now allowed just three earned runs in 25 2/3 innings in six career appearances against his former hometown club.
Marcum was an All-Metro player at Excelsior Springs and a standout performer at Southwest Missouri (now Missouri State) before his selection by the Blue Jays in the third round of the 2003 draft.
Both teams botched multiple scoring opportunities before the Royals broke through in the fourth after Mark Teahen’s leadoff double past first. Teahen was hitless in all eight previous at-bats against Marcum.
Teahen went to third on Billy Butler’s fly to right and scored when Ross Gload pulled a single off Overbay’s glove at first.
Toronto answered immediately.
Gregg Zaun opened the fifth with a double into the right-center gap and went to third on Eckstein’s soft single to right. Aaron Hill struck out, and Hochevar got Rios to hit a potential double-play grounder to short. Peña booted the ball for an error.
Zaun scored, and the Blue Jays had runners at first and second with still only one out. Hochevar limited the damage to one run by getting Vernon Wells to ground into a double play.
The early innings were a series of missed chances.
Hochevar worked around two one-out walks in the second, in part, because Lind chased a few pitches out of the zone with runners at first and second. Lind grounded into a fielder’s-choice force at second. Hochevar then stranded two runners by retiring Zaun on a grounder to first.
Toronto threatened again in the third when Eckstein led off with a single and stole second. He went to third on Hill’s fly to deep center, but Hochevar retired the three-four hitters, Rios and Wells, on grounders.
The Royals missed a great chance in their third after Peña’s fly to deep left eluded Lind for a one-out triple. Peña tried to score on David DeJesus’ grounder to second against a drawn-in infield and was an easy out at the plate.
Marcum loaded the bases by walking Alberto Callaspo and Alex Gordon on full counts but kept the game scoreless when Guillen grounded to third.
The Blue Jays wasted another chance in the fourth after Rolen lined a one-out double into the left-center gap. Rolen stole third against an inattentive Hochevar without a throw.
Again, Hochevar escaped. Rolen had to hold third on Overbay’s grounder to first against a drawn-in infield. Lind ended the threat with a routine grounder to second.