Soria looks old-school with six-out save
Closer throws 45 pitches to bail out struggling KC bullpen
OAKLAND -- It took Joakim Soria to halt another meltdown by the Royals' bullpen on Tuesday night.
Soria pitched the final two innings for the save as the Royals held on for a 4-3 victory over the Oakland Athletics, their first win in four tries this season at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. Kyle Davies pitched six solid innings to get the win.
"It wasn't easy," acting manager John Gibbons said. "You tip your hat to Soria. He's done that for us a few times this year now. That's why he's one of the elite closers in the game. He's got that knack."
This was Soria's 21st save and marked the fourth time in his last seven successes that he'd had to pitch two innings to do it.
"Like one of those old-time closers," Gibbons said.
Shades of Rollie Fingers or Goose Gossage, back when closers thought nothing of going two or three innings.
Soria had not pitched in eight days and was due for at least one inning in this game, just to get some work. Well, he got some work -- a career-high 45 pitches -- as he wiggled through a couple of messes.
Davies left after the sixth with a 4-1 lead, but the Royals' bullpen immediately flirted with disaster.
Four relievers -- yes, four -- sputtered and fluttered in the seventh, although the A's came up with just one run. Roman Colon got one out and walked a batter. Jamey Wright walked a batter and got one out. John Bale gave up a run-scoring single to Adam Kennedy. Kyle Farnsworth gave up a walk but Kurt Suzuki left the bases loaded as he rolled out.
"They tried to do the best they can and sometimes it doesn't happen," Soria said.
After Farnsworth began the eighth by giving up a walk and a single, Gibbons summoned Soria.
"You could tell when he first came in that he wasn't sharp [against] his first couple of hitters," Gibbons said.
Soria issued a walk to load the bases and a run scored on a forceout before he rang up two strikeouts to end the inning.
More peril awaited him in the ninth, when Kennedy led off with a single and Rajai Davis walked -- the sixth pass dealt out by the bullpen in the last three innings. But here Soria applied the brakes.
He struck out both Suzuki and Jack Cust before facing old, wise Nomar Garciaparra, who came up as a pinch-hitter. But Soria quickly got ahead with two strikes and Garciaparra flied out softly to center to end the threat.
"It's a game I think we should have won," A's manager Bob Geren said. "We had many, many opportunities, but we couldn't come through with the big hit."
The win gave the Royals a 3-3 record on this trip with the final game in Oakland on Wednesday afternoon.
Maybe, just maybe, the Royals can replicate their fast finish of last season, when they went 18-8 in September.
"We're starting off -- what are we -- 1-0 in September?" Davies said. "Undefeated, and I think this is the first win in California this year, too."
True enough. The Royals had lost their first three games at Oakland and all three at Anaheim.
Snapping a 1-1 tie, the Royals pushed across three runs in the sixth inning. They did it against two A's relievers after Edgar Gonzalez, on a limited pitch count, was pulled from the game.
David DeJesus and Mitch Maier each singled against left-hander Jay Marshall, confounding the left-on-left strategy, and the A's switched to right-hander Jeff Gray, but that didn't work too well either. He walked Billy Butler to load the bases.
Mike Jacobs bounced into a forceout at the plate, but Alberto Callaspo picked him up with a two-run single to center, boosting his RBI total to 52. Mark Teahen also singled to center for another run.
Davies gave up only a first-inning home run to Davis before reeling off five scoreless innings.
The Royals got their only run off Gonzalez in the second inning, as Callaspo singled and scored on Miguel Olivo's hit.
Butler pulled off a rarity when he tripled in the fourth inning, going into third standing up after his long drive hit the bottom of the center-field wall. It was his first triple in two years -- since Aug. 30, 2007, after 278 games and 1,030 at-bats. It was no rarity for this year's team, though; the Royals lead the American League with 43 triples.
But there Butler stayed as Gonzalez retired the side.
When it was over, the Royals once again pondered the unwelcome necessity of having Soria have to pitch two innings to salvage a victory. That's not in the master plan.
"Thankfully, Soria was on a few days' rest, but nobody wants to keep doing that. [Manager] Trey [Hillman] doesn't want to keep doing that, but tonight was a game to pull out a win. With a lead like that, you need it," Gibbons said.
Afterward, Soria said he felt fine, despite the 45-pitch workout.
"It's always tough, but two innings is especially tough and I kind of like that," Soria said.
Good thing. It's getting to be a regular habit.
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.