05/19/2002 7:37 pm ET
Royals won't quit under Pena
By Robert Falkoff / MLB.com
CLEVELAND -- The Royals haven't had much good fortune this year, but they
hit the jackpot in the breaks department Sunday.
Kansas City trailed by a run in the ninth inning. There were runners at
second and third with two out. Carlos Beltran hit a ground ball right at
first baseman Jim Thome and Cleveland fans started to celebrate what they
thought was a 4-3 victory. The Indians were poised at the dugout steps to
congratulate closer Bob Wickman. The Royals were looking at a gloomy plane
ride to California after yet another frustrating one-run defeat.
All Thome had to do was catch the ball. He didn't.
Emotions changed in the blink of an eye as Thome misjudged the hop and
watched the ball roll through his legs for a two-run error that gave the
Royals a 5-4 victory and three-of-four in the Jacobs Field series. The
Royals will take it and not look back.
"It sure makes that four-hour plane ride (to Anaheim) a lot more
enjoyable," third baseman Joe Randa said.
The Royals went to the ninth inning trailing 4-2. They were staring at Wickman, who had a streak of 21 consecutive saves. But Kansas City pecked
away and kept battling until it came down to Wickman versus Beltran.
"When I hit the ball, I thought it was going to be a routine play,"
Beltran said. "But when I saw Thome moving back, I knew something was going
The Indians were shocked. The Royals were joyous. Kansas City (16-26) is
now 3-3 under new manager Tony Pena.
"This ballclub isn't going to quit," Pena said. "I just told our team.
'They have to get 27 outs.' I know maybe we don't have a great great, great ballclub. But I want you to know that nobody in this clubhouse is going to
Veteran infielder Luis Alicea, who had a key walk as a pinch-hitter in
the ninth inning, had a great look at the Thome misplay. Alicea was at third
base when Beltran hit his grounder at Thome.
"Carlos hit the ball firm, but I'm surprised it went through Thome's
legs," Alicea said. "The ground is hard where the ball was hit. That's where
all the runners had been running all day and it's pretty choppy over there.
There are tons of divots. I'm sure the ball did something funny."
While the Thome play got all the postgame scrutiny, the Royals pointed
out that they had put themselves in position to get a break by battling Wickman for all they were worth in the ninth inning. Mark Quinn provided
some hope with a leadoff double on a 3-1 pitch. Pinch-hitter Neifi Perez
then rolled to second and was called out on a bang-bang play that brought
Pena out of the dugout for an argument.
"I thought Neifi was there," Pena said. "But the umpire had a much
better view than me."
Pena then went with Alicea as a pinch-hitter and he drew a walk. A
passed ball made it 4-3 and pinch-hitter Raul Ibanez worked Wickman for a
walk to put runners at first and second. Carlos Febles bounced to short,
with the runners moving to second and third.
"We had some great at-bats," Pena said. "Alicea, Ibanez. . .Beltran
fouled off some pitches. We battled and gave ourselves a chance. We are not
going to be a ballclub that goes down easily."
Once Thome provided the big gift, Royals closer Roberto Hernandez tied a
ribbon around it.
'This ballclub isn't going to quit. I know maybe we don't have a great great, great
ballclub. But I want you to know that nobody in this clubhouse is going to
|-- TONY PENA
Hernandez picked up his fifth save since May 7. With a runner at second
and two out, he fanned Ricky Gutierrez to end the game.
"This whole game swung on one pitch here, one pitch there," Hernandez
said. "Jeff Suppan threw a great game, but one bad pitch cost him."
Suppan surrendered a grand slam to Travis Fryman in the sixth that
turned a 2-0 Royals' lead into a 4-2 deficit. But Kansas City had the last
laugh with the ninth-inning heroics. Pena has done something Tony Muser and
John Mizerock couldn't do, which is win a one-run game. The Royals came in
0-7 this year in one-run games.
"This is a great win for us," Alicea said. "A lot of people didn't think
we could win close games. But with Roberto back healthy and throwing hard,
it gives us a chance."
Ibanez just hopes Sunday's reversal of fortune has a carryover effect as
the Royals open a three-game series in Anaheim Monday night.
"There was a string of good at-bats in the ninth inning and a
competitive spirit," Ibanez said. "The next time we're down in the ninth
inning, you think back to something like this and believe you can win."
Robert Falkoff covers the Royals for MLB.com. This story was not subject to
approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.