This time was different. Royals pitcher Luke Hochevar contained the damage Tuesday night when everything threatened to spiral out of control. Just two runs after the New York Yankees loaded the bases with no outs in the fifth inning.
It was still two too many because the Royals slipped into an offensive coma after scoring two early runs in a 3-2 loss at Yankee Stadium.
So, yes, this was a positive step for Hochevar, who yielded seven or more runs in three of his previous seven starts. He even recorded a quality start – three runs in 6 2/3 innings.
“The way we’ve been playing,” Hochevar said, “I wanted to come out and get another win and really get us on a roll. That fifth inning is what cost me.”
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The Yankees shuttled through five relievers after getting six innings from starter Phil Hughes (4-5) in protecting their one-run lead: Cory Wade, Boone Logan, Cody Eppley and Clay Rapada before Rafael Soriano recorded the final three outs.
The loss halted the Royals’ five-game road winning streak, squared the three-game series against the Yankees at one apiece and left the season series tied at 3-3 in advance of tonight’s finale.
Hochevar (3-5) carried a 2-1 lead into the fifth but found trouble when the Yankees loaded the bases with no outs – and did so, and this was the frustrating part, without a hard-hit ball.
Mark Teixeira led off with a ground-ball single and went to second on Jeff Francoeur’s error – a bobble – in right field before Hochevar hit Russell Martin. Dewayne Wise’s sacrifice bunt was so good that it turned into a single.
OK, let’s break that down.
Teixeira grounded a single past a diving effort by shortstop Alcides Escobar, who was overshifted to the right side in deference to Teixeira’s pull tendencies. Francoeur came charging from the right field to cut the ball off.
“For some stupid reason,” Francoeur said, “I tried to look at Tex out of the corner of my eye because I was playing (him to) pull. I felt like he was going to try to go for two.
“I took my eye off the ball to look at him and, when I looked up, the ball was right on me. So I had to try (to grab it) with my bare-hand. Stupid play. It always seems a couple of guys score after that.”
It was Francoeur’s first error in 64 games dating to last season.
“I felt bad,” he said, “because Hoch was on a roll and pitching well. Keep Tex at first, and you’ve got a chance to get a double play with Russell.”
Instead, Hochevar came inside with pitch that just brushed Martin’s uniform.
“If I don’t hit him,” Hochevar said, “maybe they don’t bunt. There are just a lot of things that happened (because of hitting Martin). I think that was a big at-bat.”
Wise’s bunt was perfect up the third-base line, and the bases were loaded. It also turned over the lineup.
Derek Jeter tied the game with a Jeteresque slicing single to right. Curtis Granderson’s soft grounder to second scored another run when Irving Falu had only a play at first. An intentional walk to Cano reloaded the bases for Alex Rodriguez.
Here, Hochevar stiffened. He struck out Rodriguez and Raul Ibanez, which stranded three runners and kept the Royals within a run.
“He limited the damage big time in that inning,” manager Ned Yost said. “I think he was being too fine during that (bad) streak. Now, he’s rarin’ back and firing it. He throws like that, he’s going to be everything we want him to be.”
The Royals had chances over the final four innings. They loaded the bases in the sixth against Hughes on a single and two walks – but left them loaded when Falu flied out to left.
Another opportunity surfaced in the eighth when Logan broke slow from the mound on Eric Hosmer’s chopper to deep first. That allowed Hosmer to beat out an infield single.
That also started a bullpen relay.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi called on Eppley to face Billy Butler, who flied to right. Then back to a lefty, Rapada, for Mike Moustakas, who lined into a double play on the first pitch.
Alex Gordon pulled a one-out double to right against Soriano in the ninth, but Falu and Escobar grounded out. Escobar nearly beat out his grounder to third, but Teixeira made a nice stretch on the throw from Rodriguez and got the call.
“It was a bang-bang play,” Escobar said. “When I hit the ball, I said, `I’ve got a chance to be safe.’”
Safe, and the game is tied. Instead, it was over.
“We had a couple of chances there late and couldn’t sneak it in,” Francoeur lamented. “We had a chance to put at least one across to tie it if not take it. We weren’t able to.”
It started well.
The Royals opened the scoring in the third after Falu’s leadoff single, which gave him at least one hit in each of his first nine big-league games. That matches a club record set in 1986 by Mike Kingery.
Falu’s speed paid off when he beat Teixeira’s throw to second after Teixeria recorded an out at first on Escobar’s grounder. The dividend came when Humberto Quintero squirted an RBI double past first.
The Royals turned inning-ending double plays behind Hochevar in the second and third innings before extending their lead to 2-0 on Francoeur’s two-out homer in the fourth inning.
Hochevar gave one run back on Robinson Cano’s one-out homer in the New York fourth, which set the stage for the New York fifth.