Buck breaks tie, brings home win for KC
Catcher hits RBI triple, scores on squeeze in pivotal eighth
KANSAS CITY -- Surprised at the sight of John Buck ponderously hot-footing his way to a triple? Shucks, that's old stuff.
But to watch the Royals' catcher thundering down the line to home plate on a suicide squeeze, not once but twice? Now there's something for 22,791 fans to store in their memory banks.
Both events occurred in the eighth inning on Sunday, as the Royals knocked off the Orioles, 7-4, to gain a split in the four-game series at Kauffman Stadium.
Buck's running feats weren't the only oddities of the sunny afternoon. The Royals won despite starting pitcher Luke Hochevar lasting only 3 1/3 innings and the defense making four errors.
"It took us a while to wake up," Royals manager Trey Hillman said. "If you'd told me we were going to commit four errors and still have a chance to win the ballgame, and win it by the margin we did, I'd have told you that you were crazy."
The Royals' fourth error, by shortstop Willie Bloomquist, had just helped the Orioles tie the score at 4 in the top of the eighth. David DeJesus began Kansas City's half of the inning with a double to right field.
Up came Buck, who somehow had managed two triples against Toronto on April 30. Now he lashed a line drive toward center fielder Felix Pie and, oh, he was fuming.
"I hit it good and I thought he was probably going to catch it, so I was running hard just because I was mad," Buck said. "And then to see him dive and miss it, I was already running hard and going into second. I saw they hadn't picked it up yet, so I kept going."
Pie's eyes were bigger than his glove, and the ball rolled toward the wall as DeJesus scored for a 5-4 lead. Buck had his third triple, the first Kansas City catcher with that many in a season since another swifty, Mike Macfarlane, in 1994.
Bloomquist followed with a roller to third base and Buck had to stand fast. Up came Coco Crisp, and, knowing his bunting ability, Buck was already thinking squeeze play.
Third-base coaches generally give the runner a verbal heads-up when the sign is on, but Buck told Dave Owen to hush -- he'd look for Hillman's sign himself. Sure enough, there it was on the 1-0 pitch, but Crisp bunted foul.
So much for the element of surprise. Surely the Royals wouldn't try that again, would they? Buck thought they might.
"I was actually looking for it again," Buck said. "And Dave Owen said, 'John!' and I said, 'Yep,' and that was all we really needed."
Buck took off as Crisp squared around and bunted the ball through the grass toward pitcher Jim Johnson. Johnson rushed in and made a quick flip to catcher Gregg Zaun, but Buck slid in safely.
A squeeze play on back-to-back pitches, now there's an oddity.
"Bucky did a great job. Great break, great timing, didn't give it away. I did my best not to," Crisp said. "I put on my poker face and tried to pretend I was hitting and not bunting."
Great job of acting, and bunting.
"Coco did a good job by deadening it and making the pitcher come that far in," Buck said. "It actually helped it quite a bit. He made a pretty good play just by flipping in."
That made the score 6-4, and, after Crisp took second with his 11th steal, Billy Butler completed the festivities with an RBI single.
Juan Cruz completed his perfect six-out relief outing and gained the victory. Nice finish for a game in which the Royals made four errors for the first time since July 16, 2005, at Detroit, and in which Hochevar labored to throw strikes. After Hochevar was tagged for three runs in the third inning and his pitch count climbed to 70 in the fourth, Hillman pulled him.
"He wasn't going to pull out of it himself, in my opinion," Hillman said.
Relievers Robinson Tejeda, Ron Mahay and Cruz finished the job, blemished only by the unearned run against Mahay.
The Royals erased a 3-1 deficit with three runs in the sixth against Japanese League product Koji Uehara on four straight hits.
Alberto Callaspo singled and raced home on Butler's double to deep right-center. Mike Jacobs dribbled a single past Uehara, and Jose Guillen celebrated his birthday by drilling a two-run double down the left-field line for a 4-3 lead. That ended Uehara's day.
The funny thing -- funny in retrospect, anyway -- is that Buck credited his only blunder with giving Hillman ammo to wake the Royals. In the Orioles' second, when Melvin Mora struck out, Buck trotted toward the dugout. Trouble was that was just the second out, not the third.
"It was my most embarrassing moment in baseball," Buck said.
"Pretty bonehead. That kind of loosened us up. Everybody was on me hard, good and bad. Trey gave me the look, 'Get your head back in it,' and it kind of sparked us to get us going."
Enough to get a victory that kept the Royals one game behind the division-leading Tigers in the American League Central.
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.