KANSAS CITY, Mo. —It was harder than it had to be but, hey, it ended well Saturday night for the Royals when Mike Aviles hit a game-winning sacrifice fly for a 4-3 walk-off victory over the Oakland A's at Kauffman Stadium.
The fly wasn't deep. Heck, it wasn't that far beyond the infield, but pinch-runner Jarrod Dyson scored easily from third in beating the throw from Ryan Sweeney. That makes six walk-off victories already this season, which matches last year's total.
"I told Dice, 'You scored on a pop to short (earlier in the season),' " Aviles said. "'If you can't score on that, we're going to have a problem.' "
There was a problem, almost.
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The A's protested Dyson left early and appealed the play at third. Home-plate umpire Bill Miller, the crew chief, confirmed that Dyson waited long enough. It was the third argument of the game that went against the A's.
Did Dyson leave early?
"No, I didn't," he said. "I thought I left a hair early, but I looked at the replay, and it looked good to me."
The victory came after reliever Aaron Crow blew a three-run lead for Luke Hochevar in the eighth inning. Joakim Soria (2-0) got the victory by pitching around a one-out single in the top of the ninth.
"It sounds cliche," Hochevar said, "but it's the truth. If we win a ballgame, we win a ballgame. That's the attitude of this ballclub. It doesn't matter whose name the 'W' goes beside. If we're getting it done, that's all that matters.
"We're planning to get into October-November, and you have to have that type of attitude to get there."
The Royals improved to 18-15, which matches their best start through 33 games in the last eight years. They were also 18-15 in 2009; they were 20-13 in 2003.
Billy Butler started the winning rally with a line single into center field, which brought Dyson into the game as a pinch-runner. Dyson raced to third when Jeff Francoeur pulled a single through the left side.
A's manager Bob Geren went to the mound but opted to stay with starter Brandon McCarthy, who then loaded the bases by issuing an intentional walk to Eric Hosmer.
"It caught me by surprise," Hosmer said, "but knowing Mikey was behind me, and with Dyson on third, you know the run is going to get in somehow."
Oakland shortened its infield, but it didn't matter when Aviles lofted his sacrifice fly. The victory squared the three-game series going into this afternoon's finale.
Hochevar carried a 3-0 lead into the eighth but exited after Andy LaRoche's leadoff single. Crow yielded a pinch single to Sweeney up the middle that sent LaRoche to third.
Worse, center fielder Melky Cabrera threw to third, which enabled Sweeney to reach second. Turned out, failing to keep the double play in order didn't matter because Cliff Pennington followed with a three-run homer into the right-field bullpen.
That quickly, the score was tied 3-3.
The runs were the first surrendered by Crow after starting his big-league career with 15 1/3 scoreless innings over 13 appearances. Pennington's homer also saddled Hochevar with a no-decision after yielding one run and four hits in seven-plus innings.
"The home run was just right down the middle," Crow said. "It was a 2-1 count, and he made a good swing on it. It was going to happen eventually. I feel bad for Hoch, that I took the win away from him."
Crow found more trouble when Coco Crisp pumped a double over Francoeur's head in right. Crisp held second on Daric Barton grounder to the mound but reached third on David DeJesus' fly to center.
The inning ended when Josh Willingham took a third strike, and the call so angered Willingham that he slammed his helmet to the ground before turning to argue with Miller. The inevitable result: an ejection.
Chris Getz nearly put the Royals back on top when he opened the bottom of the inning with a drive to deep right that DeJesus caught at the wall. The final dramatics came in the ninth.
McCarthy (1-3) retired the first 14 Royals before Hosmer pulled a two-out single through the right side in the fifth inning for his first big-league hit. The Royals then scored three times in the sixth.
Matt Treanor and Alcides Escobar opened the inning with singles. The runners moved to second and third on Getz's sacrifice, and Cabrera followed with an RBI single off Pennington's glove at short.
Then it got a bit wild.
Escobar made a wide turn at third while Pennington chased down the ball. That prompted a throw from Pennington — a throw that went wild even as Escobar dived back into third.
Alex Gordon made it 2-0 by pulling an RBI grounder through the right side that sent Cabrera to third. Butler's sacrifice fly to deep right added another run, although the A's again had a beef.
Gordon didn't appear to re-touch second after rounding the base while retreating to first. The A's appealed the play, but the call, or no-call, stood. So did the run. The Royals led 3-0.
"I thought I touched it," Gordon said, "but everybody told me I missed it. The breaks went our way today, I guess."