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08/26/07 8:05 PM ET

Royals unable to close out Indians

Kansas City comes one out from victory in series finale

KANSAS CITY -- For all the praise and adulation that has been heaped upon the Royals' relief pitchers this season, manager Buddy Bell knows one thing.

"These guys aren't going to be perfect out of the bullpen," he said.

So it was on Sunday afternoon when the Indians snapped back and whiplashed the Royals, 5-3, in an 11-inning tug-o'-war witnessed by 18,268 fans at Kauffman Stadium. The win enabled the Indians to keep their lead at 2 1/2 games over the Tigers in the American League Central standings.

"We felt pretty good about things going into the ninth, but that's just the way it goes sometimes," Bell said.

Sometimes, but not often. After all, this season his relievers have a 3.90 ERA with 32 saves in 47 chances. That compares with last year's final of 5.36 and just 35-for-66.

On this sunny day, Jimmy Gobble relieved Gil Meche and mowed down five straight batters, earning a standing ovation. David Riske then gave up two hits, but closer Joakim Soria bailed him out.

The Royals held a 3-2 lead going into the ninth, and Soria got two outs. Then Grady Sizemore came to the plate.

One more strike would end the game.

"You've got 2-2, and he breaks his bat on a double and my teammate [David DeJesus] tries to catch that and comes close," Soria said.

The blooper by Sizemore trickled away from the diving DeJesus and went for two bases. Asdrubal Cabrera pushed a single through the middle, and Sizemore scored for a 3-3 tie.

Joel Peralta pitched a scoreless 10th, but he walked Franklin Gutierrez to begin the 11th.

"The walk is not something you want to start off the inning with, especially against this team," Bell said.

After a sacrifice bunt, lefty John Bale was summoned to relieve Peralta. Bale was coming off six straight shutout innings. But he began by hitting Sizemore with a pitch.

"I shouldn't have hit Sizemore, but a sidearmed fastball ran in," Bale said. "I like it to run, but it just ran in there. The next two pitches I gave up for hits were good pitches -- down. I tip my hat to 'em."

Travis Hafner lined a run-scoring single to left, and Victor Martinez looped an RBI single to right. Bingo-bango, the Indians had a two-run lead.

The Cleveland bullpen had no problems at all, putting together five shutout innings. Matter of fact, the last 13 Royals batters made outs.

Kansas City jumped ahead of right-hander Fausto Carmona with three runs in the sixth inning. DeJesus and Ross Gload each singled, Alex Gordon moved them up with a groundout and Emil Brown got them home with a single.

The two RBIs gave Brown the club lead with 53.

Then Brown was off and running, a good thing, because that eliminated a double play as Jason Smith grounded to second.

"A lot of times when you're facing a guy like Carmona, all you're trying to do is stay out of a double play," Bell said. "And we've been pretty good at hitting into double plays, and that kid's got pretty good stuff."

The strategy worked perfectly.

"I got the sign on that," Brown said. "Then Shane Costa got the base hit and I'm the winning run."

Well, he was the winning run until the Indians tied the score in the ninth.

Royals starter Gil Meche went six innings, and after the three runs in the sixth, he stood to be the winning pitcher. It didn't turn out that way because, once again, his run support proved too meager.

Meche came into the game as the American League starting pitcher with the least run support, an average of 3.99 runs while he's in the game. He got less than that Sunday.

"There's nothing you can do about it," Meche said. "Some guys have great years and do not get good run support. It's just something that happens. There's one guy on the staff that doesn't get it, and I guess I'm the guy this year."

The Indians' comeback meant Meche has not won in seven straight starts despite his 3.85 ERA.

"He always gives us a chance to win, but he pretty much struggled the whole day with his stuff and his command," Bell said. "He got through it. His pitch count (112) was up today just because he didn't have his best stuff."

Neither, apparently, did some of the guys in the bullpen. So close, just one strike from victory.

"How crazy is that?" Brown said. "One strike."

Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.