Soria saves Royals in 4-3 victory over Yankees

NEW YORK | Here’s more proof, if any were needed, that Joakim Soria makes a difference when the Royals find themselves looking to protect slender leads in the late innings.

Soria closed out a 4-3 victory Wednesday night over the New York Yankees _ yes, barely, by stranding runners at second and third in a scoreless ninth. But really, all that matters is he closed it out, right?

Contrast that with Tuesday night: Kyle Farnsworth blew a one-run lead to the Yankees in the ninth inning when Soria was unavailable while recovering from Sunday’s career-high 46-pitch outing against the Twins.

“Soria just gives you confidence,” catcher John Buck said. “You look at his face and into his eyes _ like I did when I went out and talked to him _ and you see he’s under control.

“Even though a couple of things didn’t go right, you just get the sense that we’re going to be OK. As bad as it looked, you felt we’re going to be OK. That’s why he is what he is. It’s pretty impressive how even-keel and unfazed by things he is.”

Let’s be fair, though.

These weren’t really the Yankees by game’s end. Manager Joe Girardi managed the last few innings as if it were a spring training game _ or a late September game when your club is already assured of its place in postseason.

It almost seemed as if Girardi was summoning players from some nearby minor-league field to complete the game.

But also to be fair, the Royals aren’t in a position to turn down any victories. Certainly not in the South Bronx, where they have known little but heartbreak _ see Tuesday night _ for more than a generation.

The Royals have won just five times in their last 30 games in New York. This was also their first victory in three tries at the new Yankee Stadium.

So, sure, when things started to slip away Wednesday with two outs in the ninth _ a single and a throwing error _ it wasn’t hard to imagine some new disaster.

“That gets scary,” left fielder Mitch Maier admitted. “All it takes is a little duck snort or a seeing-eye ground ball.”

Soria responded by retiring Ramiro Peña on a routine fly to center.

“I didn’t try to make it exciting,” Soria said, “but I’ve been doing that for the last month. I don’t remember the last time I went one-two-three. But thank god that things went well, and we won the game.”

The game shouldn’t have been close. The Royals built leads of 1-0 and 3-1 for starter Robinson Tejeda only to see the Yankees pull even on homers by Derek Jeter and Nick Swisher.

The Royals also stranded 10 runners in the first six innings and let an ineffective Joba Chamberlain off the hook. Chamberlain threw 91 pitches in just 3 2/3 innings before exiting.

Problems included leaving the bases loaded with one out in the second inning; failing to advance a runner from second with no outs in the fifth; and botching a suicide squeeze in the seventh.

“We didn’t situational hit well today,” manager Trey Hillman admitted. “Then it got interesting. I’m glad we finished it off.”

The Royals, 65-94, closed to within one-half game of Cleveland, 65-93, in the battle to avoid last place in the American League Central Division. The Royals have an open date today before closing the season with three games at Minnesota.

Soria’s save was his 30th in 33 chances. Jamey Wright, 3-5, got the victory with two scoreless innings after replacing Tejeda to start the sixth. Roman Colon contributed a one-two-three eighth inning.

The Royals broke a 3-3 tie in the seventh inning after Mark Teahen worked a one-out walk against Damaso Marte, 1-3. The Yankees summoned Sergio Mitre to face Buck, who pumped a drive to deep right.

“It kind of got in on me a little bit,” Buck said. “I hit it and thought, `Arrgh.’ Then I thought, `Wait a minute.’ ”

Swisher twisted the wrong way at the last moment and failed to make the catch. It turned into a triple. That’s when Hillman tried the squeeze with Yuniesky Betancourt, but Betancourt bunted through the ball _ and Buck was an easy out.

Wright and Colon nursed the one-run lead to Soria, who got two quick outs in the ninth before things got dicey.

Francisco Cervelli lined a single to right and went to third when Betancourt committed a throwing error on Freddy Guzman’s grounder. Guzman reached second.

Soria stopped it all right there.

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