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08/16/07 2:12 AM ET
Late rally falls short for Royals
Meche's solid outing not enough; bats quieted by Texas 'pen
By Ken Daley / Special to MLB.com
ARLINGTON -- It's not a frequent complaint of managers that their young hitters appear to be too patient at the plate, but that was amongst Buddy Bell's biggest gripes Wednesday night. Bell had just watched the Royals squander numerous opportunities in a 4-3 loss to Texas before 24,529 at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, and he clearly felt timidity was at least partly to blame. The Royals twice fell short of scoring the tying run from third base in the final three innings, and they repeatedly watched hittable pitches fly past them early in the count, digging themselves into holes that resulted in 13 strikeouts -- matching their season high. Along the way, they also scored one run on a bizarre play in which eight of the nine Texas players in the field touched the ball. They had one of their speediest pinch-runners thrown out at the plate, missing the tying run in the seventh by a matter of inches. They again could not give starter Gil Meche more than the barest of breathing room. And they saw another late-inning mistake pitch doom Meche to a loss, his fifth in his last five starts. "Tonight," Bell said, "was not a good night -- all the way around." Though Bell might have been buoyed about 30 minutes later by the news that the Royals had finally signed the No. 2 overall Draft pick, California high school shortstop Mike Moustakas, just before Wednesday's 10:59 p.m. deadline, the manager was clearly troubled by the apparent step back his club has taken since winning eight of 12 games in late July. Since that spree ended July 29, the Royals have gone 5-10. "We played so good for a long time, it hurts a little more now because we expect to play better," Bell said. The Royals had reason to be optimistic about a big offensive night against Rangers starter Vicente Padilla. He was 3-8 with a 6.69 ERA even before landing on the disabled list for 47 days because of triceps irritation. Padilla was making his first Major League start since June 21, after going 0-1 with an 8.25 ERA in six rehab starts for Double-A Frisco. He appeared to be a 10-run night waiting to happen. Not so, however. Padilla retired seven of the first eight hitters he faced, as the Royals meekly let him get ahead in the count before taking uncertain swings. Padilla struck out eight and walked none in five innings, giving up only one unearned run on four hits. "He had pretty good command for somebody who hasn't been in this environment for a while," Bell grudgingly conceded. The unearned run that put Padilla in a 1-0 hole, however, was a blooper reel instant classic. Tony Pena Jr. singled with one out and was on his way to third on David DeJesus' single to right. DeJesus strayed too far past first base and was hung up in a rundown involving three of the four Texas infielders. As DeJesus scrambled back to an unoccupied first base, Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler saw Pena trying to score and fired to third baseman Ramon Vazquez, who relayed to nail Pena at the plate. Rangers catcher Gerald Laird then sprung to his feet and tried to stop DeJesus from advancing to second, but his throw sailed into center field, beyond the grasp of outfielder Marlon Byrd, for a three-base error that allowed DeJesus to score. Starting with the pitch and ending with Byrd retrieving the ball, every Rangers defender -- save left fielder Frank Catalanotto -- touched the ball on the play. "I've never seen that before," Bell said. "I just wish we'd had more guys on base." "I didn't know what happened there," Meche said. "I didn't know how to follow it. That was insane." Meche nursed that 1-0 lead into the sixth, when he issued a leadoff walk to Vazquez. Kinsler's one-out single moved Vazquez to second, and both runners scored when Meche hung a fastball to Rangers All-Star shortstop Michael Young, who drove it off the center-field fence for a double and a 2-1 lead. For Meche (7-11), the sequence of events was eerily similar to his previous start last Friday against Toronto. In that game, he took a shutout into the sixth before giving up three consecutive hits, including a two-run double to Vernon Wells that proved to be the game-winner. "Mentally, it might be something I'm doing," Meche said, "because late in the games I'm not shutting them down when I need to. This was just like the last game, sixth inning, the other team's best hitter. "The third time around the batting order, when I really need to pitch these guys tougher, I'm just not doing it." True enough, though, Meche is perhaps being too hard on himself. Once again, his teammates mustered only one run of support, and even that required the Rangers' pratfall series of events in the third. The Royals have scored a total of 10 runs while Meche has been in the game in his 11 losses. "He has to be perfect every night just because we don't score any runs for him," Bell said. The Royals came within a whisker of tying the game in the top of the seventh. They loaded the bases with one out against former Royals right-hander Mike Wood (3-1) and Frank Francisco. Bell replaced Billy Butler with pinch-runner Jason Smith to increase the chances of scoring the tying run from third. But when Joey Gathright hit a fly ball to medium center field, Byrd charged in and unleashed a perfect throw that nailed Smith at the plate for an inning-ending double play. An errant pickoff throw by reliever Jimmy Gobble allowed the Rangers' Nelson Cruz to score from third with a gift run in the seventh. Kinsler then led off the eighth with his career-best 15th home run, a leadoff shot against Joel Peralta, to stake Texas to a 4-1 lead heading into the final inning. Rangers closer C.J. Wilson struggled in the ninth, allowing an RBI double to John Buck and a run-scoring single to Gathright. The potential tying run was at third base with one out, but Wilson induced a game-ending double-play ball from Pena to escape with his sixth save in seven chances. "We just can't seem to score," lamented Bell. "We have to be more aggressive early in the count. I keep saying that, all the time, and I hope eventually it will start to sink in. We take too many early fastballs. We're a young team, and the only way we're going to find out about our swings is to be aggressive."
Ken Daley is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.