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07/26/09 12:30 AM ET
Bats back Hochevar as KC ends skid
Righty fans 13 Rangers while offense rallies down stretch
By Rustin Dodd / MLB.com
KANSAS CITY -- Take a deep breath and exhale. The Royals' 10-game losing streak is over. Luke Hochevar set a career-high with 13 strikeouts, Billy Butler gave the offense a needed jolt and the Royals beat the Texas Rangers, 6-3, on Saturday night in front of 27,602 victory-starved fans at Kauffman Stadium. Seemingly all those fans were still there in the ninth when closer Joakim Soria struck out Texas' Taylor Teagarden to close out his 15th save -- and his first six-out save of the season. The Royals won for the first time since beating Boston, 8-6, on July 9. "We have a bunch of guys on this team that work hard and play hard," Hochevar said of the Royals' 10-game skid. "It wasn't going to last for long." Hochevar started that game in Boston, too. And the Royals' 25-year-old right-hander was the story again on Saturday. Hochevar, who gave up just two earned runs over seven innings, became the first Royals pitcher to strike out 13 batters since Kevin Appier in 1996. His 13 K's were just one away from Mark Gubicza's franchise record, and he became the first pitcher in Royals history to strike out 13 with no walks. Add in the nine strikeouts from his last start, and he has 22 over his last two outings. Funny thing is, Hochevar isn't usually a strikeout pitcher. He struck out just 26 batters in 57 1/3 innings over his first 10 starts. "I'm throwing the same pitches," Hochevar said. "If anything, [Miguel Olivo] has caught me every single game, and he's been calling exceptional games. I think the only two times I've shaken him, I've given up hits." Hochevar did allow those two earned runs -- plus another unearned run -- in the first four innings, putting the Royals in a 3-0 hole. But the Royals' offense helped out with a timely fifth-inning rally. Trailing, 3-1, and on the cusp of another loss, the Royals rallied for three runs to take a 4-3 lead. After an RBI double from David DeJesus, Butler provided the big muscle with a two-run opposite-field homer to right that gave the Royals their first lead of the game. Butler's homer came on a 3-0 pitch from Rangers starter Derek Holland. "If it wasn't in that spot where it was right there, I was going to take it," Butler said. "It's a 3-0 mentality. It's gotta be right there." The Royals added two more runs in the seventh on a sacrifice fly from Mark Teahen and a double from Miguel Olivo. All that offense came after Royals manager Trey Hillman was granted an early exit. Hillman came out of the dugout to argue a call at first base at the end of the fourth inning and was promptly tossed by first-base umpire Phil Cuzzi. Hillman's ejection wasn't all bad. Hochevar had his breaking ball working, and Hillman got a great look from the television in his office. "That's as good as I've seen it, but I had a lot better view after the fourth," Hillman said. "Not trying to be funny, but you can only see so much from the side. Once I get the camera angle in my office watching it on the tube, I can see where it's starting and where it's finishing." While Hochevar's strikeout numbers may have been gaudy, the Rangers did make him work from the start. The first batter of the game, Ian Kinsler, sent a drive to the wall in left, only to be robbed on a leaping catch by DeJesus. The very next batter, Michael Young, blasted one into the visitors' bullpen in left, giving the Rangers a 1-0 lead. For a few moments, it looked like it might be one of those nights, but Hochevar never thought so. "It's a good lineup. If anybody knows how to get Michael Young out, let me know," Hochevar said. "Those are two good hitters. I mean the entire lineup is really, really good. It was just kind of getting in a groove and seeing those hitters first time through the order and making my adjustments off of that." Hochevar made the adjustments, and the Rangers couldn't counter. "After Michael hit his home run off a fastball, he shied away from that pitch," Texas' Andruw Jones said. "He started throwing his curveball and slider. He just had good bite on both pitches. He pitched good. There's nothing you can do." Hochevar left after the seventh, and Soria took the ball from the there. Hillman said Soria wouldn't be available to pitch on Sunday, but the Royals had do something on Saturday to "stop the bleeding." "The eighth inning has been so treacherous for us," Hillman said. And after his outstanding outing, Hochevar had a special sign waiting for him in the clubhouse. Brian Bannister had spelled out "Luke" on a banner above Hochevar's locker. Bannister used 13 K's, of course.
Rustin Dodd is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.