09/02/10 12:58 AM ET
Royals come up short in finale vs. Rangers
Betancourt drives in pair of runs in loss vs. Texas
By Dick Kaegel / MLB.com
Still, two long drives struck by the Royals in the ninth inning on Wednesday night might have meant a different outcome in Texas than the 4-3 Rangers victory at the more spacious Kauffman Stadium.
With Rangers closer Neftali Feliz on the mound, Wilson Betemit sent a long drive to right field that Nelson Cruz caught near the wall. Then Billy Butler hit a liner that sent Cruz back, crashing into the wall and reaching for a catch. Game over.
"If we were in Texas, that game's over, we win it, but we're not," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "They both smoked the ball. I thought both of them had a chance to go out. The outfielders in that situation are playing no-doubles, they're playing deep and that's the only way you're going to catch a ball like Billy hit -- he just scalded it."
It was a night for crucial outfield catches by the Rangers. With two out and two on in the Royals' sixth inning, Gregor Blanco sent one of Tommy Hunter's pitches hurtling toward the left-field corner. For the 10,811 fans, visions of two runners dashing across the plate danced through their heads.
But, no, left fielder David Murphy streaked like a comet, reached out and caught the ball. Inning over.
"Made a great play on Blanco -- that's two runs, that's the game-saver there," Yost said.
That kept the Rangers' lead at 4-2.
"I was actually playing kind of shallow on him and he got pretty good wood on it," Murphy said. "I didn't think it was going to travel the way it did. It started fading toward the line and started carrying over my head a little bit. I knew I had to gain ground on it as much as possible. It was one of those that I got there at the last second, just stretched, and reached it at the last second and got it."
It was one of those nights when the Rangers made all the right moves and the Royals, at times, did not. Take the first inning. Royals starter Bryan Bullington opened the game with a walk and, with one out, Murphy hit a looper to center field that fell in front of Blanco.
"Very uncharacteristic of him," Yost said. "He took a step back. He read a big swing and the ball kind of came off the end of the bat."
That went for a single and, one out later, Nelson Cruz got a single through the shortstop hole for two runs.
"The first inning I walked the leadoff guy and I still had a chance to get out of the inning and Cruz hit a six-hopper that was just in right spot to get through and scored the two that ended up being the difference," Bullington said.
Ex-Royal Andres Blanco, who was 6-for-12 in the series, doubled home the Rangers' third run in the fourth and Mitch Moreland belted a solo homer off Bullington in the sixth.
Yuniesky Betancourt was the Royals' primary weapon, knocking in two of their three runs with a home run off Hunter in the fourth and a double off reliever Darren Oliver in the seventh.
But that was it.
The Royals' bullpen, in Bullington's wake, held nicely. Philip Humber worked 2 2/3 scoreless innings, getting the last eight batters he faced out in order. And Gil Meche, making his first relief appearance, worked a shutout ninth with one single.
"Humber's continuing a nice streak he's had since he's been here. He's made good on every opportunity," Yost said.
Humber threw three shutout innings in his previous appearance at Detroit and earned his first victory.
Meche last pitched in relief for Seattle on Oct. 1, 2005, against Oakland. He pitched two-thirds of an inning and gave up two hits.
This time Meche began by striking out Julio Borbon on three pitches and got Andrus on a groundout before Michael Young singled to center. Then Murphy lined out to second.
"Gil threw the ball very, very well. The curveball that he gave up the hit was an excellent curveball and he commanded his fastball. Gil could be a big plus for our pen," Yost said.
In the bottom of the ninth, Feliz got Mike Aviles on a fly ball to center. Then came the Betemit and Butler drives that might well have been out at the Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.
"The guy's throwing 100 miles an hour and I put the barrel on it. I can't do any more than that," Butler said.
"In Texas, we may have had two home runs there back-to-back, but we're not playing in Texas."
Nor are the Royals playing the Rangers anywhere again this season. Probably just as well, Texas won seven of the nine games.
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.