Royals drop final contest of 2007
Hochevar makes first start of promising young career
KANSAS CITY -- Manager Buddy Bell and Mike Sweeney enjoyed several standing ovations, a video tribute and plenty of hugs from their Royals teammates and personnel Sunday afternoon. It lacked something, though.
Luke Hochevar made his first Major League start, but the Royals couldn't punctuate their final game of the 2007 season with a victory at Kauffman Stadium. KC lost, 4-2, to Cleveland and finished the season 69-93, its most wins since 2003.
Bell, who finished with a 174-262 record in Kansas City, will step down to spend more time with his family. Sweeney, one of the most respected players in the game and a lifetime Royal, may come back to KC. His five-year contract is over and the front office has yet to make a decision on his future.
"If this is the finish line, then I will never forget it," he said.
However, the Royals did receive a glimpse at their promising future. Hochevar worked three solid innings in his first Major League start, and Billy Butler collected three more hits.
Alex Gordon, another of the Royals' talented youngsters, was hit in the nose in the top of the ninth inning on a ground ball from Kelly Shoppach. Gordon, bleeding profusely, was taken to St. Luke's hospital.
"I'm assuming they're going to take X-rays," Bell said. "There's a good chance of [his nose] being broken -- probably not the first time that's happened to him on a ground ball but, of course, you saw the blood out there. They're taking care of him, and I'm sure he'll be fine."
Hochevar suffered his first Major League loss in his fourth appearance this month. After he posted a 4-9 record and 4.86 ERA at two Minor League stops this season, Hochevar wasn't first considered for a September callup.
"[He was] put on late after lobbying by Bill Fischer [and] was an excellent move," Bell said. "We were happy to bring him up and we saw a lot from him."
Before Hochevar took the mound, though, the Royals provided a pregame ceremony for Bell, who will join the Royals front office as a senior advisor to general manager Dayton Moore. He earned a standing ovation from the fans when Moore and Sweeney presented Bell with a framed jersey.
"It's great," Bell said. "I'm just disappointed that I can't stay here any longer. There are some things I have to do and I'm looking forward to that and looking forward to my future.
"I said the other day the only thing I do regret is that the people [of KC] really didn't get to know me very well and I didn't get to know them for one reason or another. But it's a time in my baseball career I won't forget -- it's a great town."
Then Hochevar, a pitcher with tremendous stuff and potential, delivered another strong outing. Mainly a sinker-slider pitcher at the University of Tennessee and with the independent Fort Worth Cats in 2006, Hochevar developed a curveball that he now considers his go-to pitch.
He also changed his delivery from the stretch and worked on his four-seam fastball. After one month in the Majors, Hochevar has a 2.13 ERA in 12 2/3 innings. His season line yielded five strikeouts, four walks and just one homer allowed. He is considered a candidate for the 2008 rotation.
"I think that he has learned how to pitch in certain counts and once you get to a certain count, you look for a strikeout instead of a ground-ball out," catcher Paul Phillips said. "He has always had good stuff, and then you take the mental approach that he has gained, and he is going to be something special.
"We have good things to come from Luke Hochevar."
That showed Sunday. Hochevar, using Phillips -- his Triple-A catcher -- as his backstop, didn't allow a run in the first two innings. With two on in the third, Travis Hafner hit a fly ball to left field.
The wind was blowing out at 20-25 mph, and Justin Huber had a late break on the ball. It flew over his head and both runs scored. Hochevar finished with 51 pitches, 28 for strikes.
"My plan was to do what I have always done and go out and attack hitters and try and induce contact," Hochevar said. "I think this game I was more consistent with my curveball. I didn't throw it much and just tried to go out with my fastball and tried to induce contact, but I was pleased with my offspeed stuff today."
The offense, though, couldn't climb out of an early 3-0 hole. Sweeney, who earned an ovation when he batted in the first inning, finished 0-for-3.
A Royal for the past 17 years, Sweeney played first base and was removed for Jason Smith with one out in the top of the seventh.
Sweeney hugged Smith, walked off the field to a thunderous ovation, bowed twice and hugged his teammates in the dugout. Leo Nunez stepped off the mound to allow Sweeney to soak in the ovation, and the Royals fielders clapped for the captain. As the applause continued, Sweeney emerged for a curtain call.
The scoreboard in left-center field also played a video tribute for Bell and Sweeney in the eighth inning that earned another ovation from the crowd of 19,104.
"It was the most emotional day I have spent on a baseball field," Sweeney said.
It just didn't end in a victory.
Conor Nicholl is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.