05/04/08 5:25 PM ET
Meche back in big way
Royals' ace posts seven shutout innings in win over Tribe
By Justice B. Hill / MLB.com
"This is what I've been waiting for," Meche said.
So had the Royals.
Finally, they saw the Meche of last season, the Meche who anchored their rotation, and the Royals didn't squander his nearly flawless outing here Sunday afternoon as they'd done with Zack Greinke's masterpiece in Texas three days earlier.
In his finest outing of the 2008 season, Meche held the Indians to four hits and no runs through seven innings. He teamed with the Royals' bullpen to shut out the Indians, 2-0, in front of 27,836 fans at a chilly, breezy Progressive Field.
"It was outstanding," manager Trey Hillman said of Meche's outing. "Everybody knows how badly he needed that -- and how badly we needed that. Like I said before the game, there's no better medicine than a 'W.' "
Yet as well as Meche pitched, the Royals were hardly assured of a "W" this day, not with the way unheralded left-hander Aaron Laffey was pitching for the Tribe. Pitch for pitch, Laffey matched Meche, holding the Royals hitless until the fifth inning.
"He was throwing two-seamers, four-seamers, sliders and changeups to boot," Hillman said. "So he was good."
In a game that pitchers dominated, the outcome seemed to hang on which pitcher got the first break. It would be Meche, not Laffey.
With the game scoreless in the top of the fifth, Miguel Olivo broke up Laffey's no-hit bid with a two-out single. Laffey then walked John Buck. The next batter was Tony Pena, and his routine grounder to third base would prove the difference.
On Pena's grounder, Casey Blake fielded the ball cleanly and threw to second for what should have been an easy force on Buck. Blake's throw, however, was high and wide. The ball caromed off Asdrubal Cabrera's glove and into right field. Olivo scored.
That's about all the support Meche needed.
"This is what I've been working for," he said. "This is the game I definitely needed to see."
Meche didn't allow the Indians to mount any serious threats. Using a sharp breaking ball, he kept hitters off balance from his opening pitch to his last pitch.
"I stayed in good pitching counts most of the time," Meche said. "I got them to put the ball on the ground most of the time."
After the seventh, he turned his 1-0 lead over to the back end of the bullpen, which has been one of the most effective in the American League. Even the bullpen's job was made easier when Olivo homered in the top of the ninth to give closer Joakim Soria a cushion.
"That was big," said Hillman, whose ballclub won both games in this rain-shortened series. "You got a little breathing room there with one more run. That's a big deal, especially in back-to-back-save days."
It wasn't as big a deal as Meche's performance, though. How could it be? For the ace looked like the ace again -- finally.
"My biggest problem in my first six starts is I haven't been consistent with offspeed [pitches]," Meche said. "Once I could do that, then the fastball is much better. Now, the slow breaking ball they've got to watch out for, and then the fastball is tougher to catch up with.
"Everything was just working today, and that's what you want."
Justice B. Hill is a senior writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.