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Meche solid, but Royals fall in opener

Meche solid, but Royals fall in opener

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KANSAS CITY -- David Riske threw four split-finger fastballs to White Sox slugger Paul Konerko. He liked three of them.

The other one ended up 406 feet from home plate and gave the White Sox their first lead of the game en route to a 7-4 win over the Royals at Kauffman Stadium on Monday night.

"You have to go out there and be perfect, and I missed with one pitch," Riske said. "I threw four splitty's to him and three of them were very good, but that's not good enough."

Riske entered the game in the eighth inning tied at 3. After left-handed reliever Jimmy Gobble gave up a base hit to Jim Thome, Riske came in to face Konerko. Konerko had already hit one home run off Royals starter Gil Meche, and locked in on Riske's splitter and took it deep for his second of the game.

For the Royals, it was the same old story. Get a solid outing from their starter, and then falter late. Through the team's first 19 games of the season, the bullpen is 1-6 with a 6.05 ERA.

In the Royals clubhouse, it was almost unanimous what the problem is.

"There's no doubt in my mind, it's all confidence," Royals catcher John Buck said. "Not being able to have the confidence [to say], 'I'm going to lay it all on the line, and it's either going to be me or you today', and it seems like we're pitching afraid -- that has to stop.

"Other than the bullpen, we're all right, we got the hitting going. We have what we planned on having. Once we get that buckled down, we'll be fine."

Manager Buddy Bell echoed what Buck said and said he's confident in the bullpen's ability and thinks they will be able to turn it around once they start pitching with more confidence.

"We have to figure out how to get some outs in our bullpen," Bell said. "I think they just don't trust their stuff. Arm-wise they have plenty of stuff -- it's just a matter of making some pitches. What we're all looking for is a couple of solid back-to-back outings to give us some confidence."

Of the Royals' last six losses, four of them have gone to pitchers in the bullpen, including the last two. Although Riske's mistake to Konerko won't go down as a blown save, the Royals bullpen has still blown five saves, tied for most in the league.

The struggles in the bullpen overshadowed another solid outing from Meche. In five starts, Meche has an ERA of 2.55, but only has one win to show for it. Monday, he went seven innings and allowed three runs on eight hits, while not walking a batter and striking out three.

He joined Riske in the mistake club in the sixth inning, when he gave up a home run to Konerko. His wasn't a splitter, it was a fastball, but it was up in the zone, similar to Riske's pitch.

"I guess he [Konerko] hasn't been hitting good pitches that guys have been throwing. I threw a pitch, basically, sitting on the tee for him," Meche said. "And a guy with that power, he's supposed to hit it out of the ballpark."

Meche was spotted a lead in the fifth, when Buck hit a two-run home run to left-center field. He gave it right back when he gave up the homer to Konerko. Again, he was spotted a lead, this time in the sixth, when Mike Sweeney hit a sacrifice fly to score David DeJesus to put the Royals back up, 3-2.

Meche again couldn't hold the lead. Darin Erstad roped a single to center field that scored Joe Crede and tied the game back up.

"That's my game to win -- plain and simple," Meche said. "I just couldn't hold them off when I got the lead, which is something you just have to do."

Trailing by one run heading into the ninth inning, it looked as if the Royals still had a chance, but the bullpen again faltered and gave up two runs.

Reliever Ryan Braun walked the first two hitters of the inning. Joel Peralta then came in and gave up a single to Thome that scored Erstad. Konerko then added his fifth RBI of the night, when he hit a sacrifice fly to center field.

"We'll get it turned around," Riske said. "We just have to get the pitches down. Overall, when you're not going well and balls are staying up, you don't want to go out there and overthink it -- you want to go after hitters. We're overthinking everything right now."

The Royals threatened in the bottom of the ninth as Buck led off with a double. After Alex Gordon was retired, Tony Pena singled to move Buck to third base and bring DeJesus up, who represented the tying run. Instead, DeJesus hit into a game-ending 6-4-3 double play and the Royals fell to 6-13 on the young season.

Daniel Berk is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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