KANSAS CITY, Mo. —It's been a long time coming for Jeff Francis — too long, really — but his first victory since last July was (almost) worth the wait.
Francis pitched 7 2/3 innings Friday night as the Royals opened their I-70 Series weekend against the St. Louis Cardinals with a 3-0 victory at Kauffman Stadium.
Aaron Crow and Joakim Soria completed the shutout, which pulled the Royals back to .500 at 22-22, but the night belonged to Francis, whose last victory occurred July 30, 2010 while pitching for Colorado against the Chicago Cubs.
"We wanted to get him a win more than anything," catcher Brayan Pen~a said. "When it's a guy like him, a great teammate who never complains (about lack of support), everybody puts a little bit extra into it. All of us. It was good for us but great for him."
It didn't come easily.
St. Louis starter Chris Carpenter (1-4) matched zeroes with Francis through six innings before the Royals struck for three runs in the seventh.
"He's a former Cy Young Award winner," Royals manager Ned Yost said, "and he's going to carve you up. The only way you can beat a guy like that is to wait him out. Every inning, you've got to keep getting after it until maybe he makes a mistake."
Francis (1-5) allowed six hits while striking out six and walking two in a 94-pitch performance that lowered his ERA to 4.23. It was his third straight quality start and his seventh this season in 10 outings.
So, yes, a victory was overdue, although Francis insisted afterward, as he did throughout his 15-appearance drought, that a lack of personal reward wasn't wearing on him.
"Any W is nice to get," he said. "I mean, I'm still 1-5. So as much relief as it may be.... It's a long year, and you try to prepare yourself to pitch. Whether this had been a win, a loss or a no-decision, it doesn't really change the way I prepare for the next time."
Francis exited with a runner at first with two outs in the eighth inning because the Royals wanted Aaron Crow for right-on-right matchups against Albert Pujols and, if Pujols reached, Matt Holliday.
"I made my mind up after the seventh inning," Yost said, "that Jeff wasn't going to face Pujols again. As good as he was throwing, it wasn't going to happen."
Crow jumped ahead of Pujols 0-2 before throwing four straight balls, which brought Holliday to the plate as the tying run — but Crow ended the inning by striking out Holliday.
Soria got his seventh save in nine chances by pitching a one-two-three the ninth on nine pitches.
Carpenter lugged a 4.95 ERA into the game after allowing eight runs in his last start, and 18 runs in his previous three starts, but cruised through six scoreless innings before the Royals struck in the seventh.
Billy Butler led off with a single, and Wilson Betemit followed with a drive into the left-center gap that fell for a double when center fielder Colby Rasmus failed in his attempt at a diving catch.
Butler held up initially before eventually reaching third.
"What I'm doing," he said, "is making sure it gets down and seeing if I have enough room to get to third. We just played fundamental baseball from there."
Pen~a produced the game's first run with a sacrifice fly to center.
"I didn't hit it that well," he said. "It was a good cutter that came in on me, but the way the ball was carrying to his right side, I thought it was deep enough for Billy to score."
Chris Getz dropped a single into center that moved Betemit to third before Alcides Escobar made it 2-0 by serving a single into right that fell in front of a diving Jon Jay. That finished Carpenter.
"I got a ball in the middle of the plate to Butler for the base hit," Carpenter said. "Made an OK pitch to Betemit that was up (in the air) for a while, but it found a spot. And then Escobar's base hit. I just left the ball up a little bit in that last inning."
The Cardinals called on Trever Miller for a left-on-left matchup against Alex Gordon, who drew a four-pitch walk that loaded the bases. Melky Cabrera's sacrifice fly added another run.
Three runs were plenty.
Escobar added to his web-gem collection in the eighth inning after pinch-hitter Pete Kozma led off with a sharp grounder that kicked off Betemit's glove at third. Escobar barehanded the carom and threw out Kozma.
"You like that pass there?" Betemit deadpanned. "Just like basketball. That guy? Unbelievable. Some day, he's going to have a Gold Glove. He's got great hands."
And Francis, finally, has a victory.
"A couple of things that go your way early in the game can really help you along," said Francis, who benefited from double-play grounders with two on and one out in the second and sixth innings.
"The way the guys played behind me was superb. What can you say? It was just a good effort by the whole team."