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Meche in top form in Royals' 5-0 victory over Arizona

Not so fast with those T-shirts promoting Zack Greinke as the ace of the Royals’ staff. Gil Meche is suddenly making a charge to reclaim that distinction. Meche pitched the third shutout of his career Tuesday night as the Royals continued to bulldoze their way through interleague play with a 5-0 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks at Kauffman Stadium.

“I think he got ticked off a little bit by the shirt,” third baseman Mark Teahen joked. “He pitched a great game. When Gil is on like that, it’s easy to play defense behind him because he’s getting ahead of everybody.”

Meche was in command throughout in recording his sixth career complete game. He allowed four hits, all singles, while striking out six and walking one. He threw a career-high 132 pitches.

His previous career high was 129 on two occasions.

“I don’t have too many complete games,” Meche said, “much less shutouts. I wanted to go out there and get this one. It took a lot of pitches, especially on the last guy. He was killing me.”

The last guy, Stephen Drew, battled through 10 pitches before finally sending a game-ending fly to left field on Meche’s 22nd pitch of the inning.

This makes four straight quality starts for Meche, 4-5, since his moved to the first-base side of the pitching rubber. Further, he has allowed just three earned runs in 29 innings in those four games.

His ERA is down to 3.31 from 4.55.

“I walked up to him at the end of the eighth,” manager Trey Hillman said, “and told him, `Nice job,’ and he said, `No way. I’ve got this one.’

“I was pleased and gave him the veteran courtesy there. I wanted him to finish it.”

The Royals backed Meche with a 10-hit attack that produced single runs in the first, second, fifth, sixth and eighth innings. Teahen led the way with three hits, which raised his average to .294.

“We’ve been swinging the bats lately,” said DH Mike Jacobs, who had two doubles on balls misplayed by Arizona outfielders. “That’s a good sign because we didn’t swing the bats when we were going through that (bad) stretch.

“The pitching was there. We just weren’t swinging the bats real well. But we’re scoring some runs (lately) and taking some pressure off the pitchers.”

It’s all going the Royals’ way at the moment. This makes four straight victories and five in their last six. At 29-34, they now find themselves just 4½ games behind first-place Detroit in the American League Central Division.

Tuesday’s victory followed a three-game weekend sweep against the Cincinnati Reds. The Royals have outscored NL opponents 23-6 in the last four games and are now 47-30 in interleague play since early in the 2005 season.

“If there is something to playing National League teams,” Teahen said, “we’ve just got to make sure we keep doing it. Let that get us back into the race.”

Arizona lefty Doug Davis, 3-8, gave up four runs and six hits in 5 2/3 innings. He kept the Royals from putting together a big inning but scrambled from one jam to another before exiting down 4-0.

Miguel Olivo’s fielder’s-choice grounder opened the scoring in a first inning that required Davis to throw 36 pitches. David DeJesus’ two-out RBI single made it 2-0 in the second.

Meche retired the first seven hitters before Eric Byrnes reached on an infield single. Teahen saved a possible two-out single by Felipe Lopez with a fine diving stop and throw for the final out.

Arizona didn’t get another runner until Mark Reynolds’ leadoff single in the fifth inning. It, too, came to nothing thanks to another fine defensive play: Second baseman Alberto Callaspo saved a run by nabbing Byrnes’ sharp two-out grounder up the middle.

“When you’re on the mound and feel you have good stuff,” Meche said, “and all of a sudden they put a ball in play, and a guy behind you makes a diving play, it just boosts your confidence that much more.

“They made some plays where I didn’t think we had a chance to get the guy at first.”

Billy Butler’s sacrifice fly extended the lead to 3-0 in the fifth before Arizona began misplaying balls in the outfield.

Right fielder Justin Upton lost track of Jacobs’ high, deep one-out drive in the sixth. The ball, completely catchable, clanged off the right-field wall for a double. Teahen’s two-out single, his third hit, made it 4-0 and finished Davis.

The Royals scored their final run in the eighth inning against reliever Tony Peña on Callaspo’s RBI single after Jacobs reached on another gift double. This time, Gerardo Parra dropped the ball in left, in a crowd, after a long run.

After that, it was merely a matter of whether Meche could finish.

“Walking off the field,” he said, “I gave Trey a little wink -- a thanks for letting me go back out and get it.”

To reach Bob Dutton, send e-mail to bdutton@kcstar.com.

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