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Timely hitting, bullpen give Royals win

Timely hitting, bullpen give Royals win

BOSTON -- Long before game time, Leo Nunez popped into manager Buddy Bell's office in the tiny Fenway Park visitors' clubhouse to say hello. Bell reached out to grasp Nunez's hand and feigned bewilderment.

"What are you doing here?" the Royals skipper said.

Nunez's grasp of the English language is quite good. Bell was kidding, and Nunez got the joke.

"Oh, yeah, I knew," Nunez said, smiling.

Everyone was smiling in the Royals' clubhouse after Tuesday night's 9-3 victory over the Boston Red Sox. Bell's master plan for his pitching had worked to perfection.

You've heard of closer-by-committee. Well, this was starter-by-committee.

The idea was to bring Nunez in from Triple-A Omaha, have him give the Royals a solid outing and then let the well-rested and generally tough relievers do their thing.

With 37,001 fans at sold-out Fenway Park, the little-known "Noonie" did his job.

"His pitch count isn't up to where a starter's normally is, but I thought he did a nice job against a good lineup," Bell said.

Nunez got plenty of help from the bullpen gang -- Jimmy Gobble, Zack Greinke, Joel Peralta and Joakim Soria. Because Nunez went just four-plus innings, he didn't qualify for the victory, which instead went to Gobble.

Closer Octavio Dotel also helped Nunez, but not until after Soria got the final out. Fellow Dominican Dotel acted as Nunez's translator for reporters.

The reporters wondered if Nunez, after this successful spot start, thought he deserved another chance.

"He says," Dotel announced, "that he's not in control of that, but if he has another chance to win, he'd be happy to do it."

What Nunez and the bullpen gang got in this win was an assault from their buddies with the bats, always helpful against a dangerous first-place club like the Red Sox.

Tony Pena had three hits, including two doubles that each knocked in a run. Alex Gordon had three hits and scored three runs himself. Billy Butler's double drove in the first two runs and John Buck's two-run double ignited a five-spot in the seventh inning.

Most of the damage was inflicted upon knuckleballer Tim Wakefield.

"I saw three knuckleballs, and I swung at every pitch," said Gordon, who had two of his hits against Wakefield. "I was aggressive with him, and if he's around the zone, I thought I might as well swing."

Wakefield's flutterball mystified the Royals for three innings.

"Then, you know, it was 3-1 going into the seventh and I just kind of lost a feel for the ball," Wakefield said. "And I don't know the reason why."

Nunez, who just returned to starting assignments this season, had his season delayed by a broken left wrist. He wasn't expected to grind out nine innings or anything close to it.

"We were thinking maybe 80-90 pitches; we just assumed that," Gobble said of the bullpen perspective. "We got to thinking about the third or fourth that we better be prepared."

Nunez dodged trouble in the first four innings, pitching around five hits, a walk and an error with the help of two double plays. On one of them, right fielder Mark Teahen threw out Mike Lowell at third base -- his 12th assist this season.

When Julio Lugo led off the Red Sox fifth with a double, Nunez was still ahead, 3-0, but he'd thrown 74 pitches.

Bell waved Gobble into the game, and Lugo eventually came around to score with the run being charged to Nunez. Gobble and Greinke were unscathed in their outings, but Peralta allowed four straight hits and two runs in the eighth.

That brought Soria into the fray. He got all four batters he faced, extending his string of scoreless innings to 18. Soria is just 4 1/3 innings shy of the Royals record by a reliever, Rusty Meacham's 22 1/3 innings in 1994.

Credit the Royals left-field contingent with good defensive help. Reggie Sanders made a diving stab of Lowell's liner with two on in the fourth. Sanders, just off the disabled list, was later replaced by Emil Brown, who leaped against the wall and stabbed David Ortiz's potential two-run drive to end the seventh.

"In this ballpark, you make plays like that, those are big because it always seems like you're on the edge of your seat here," Bell said.

When it was all over, though, Nunez and his four helpers could look back on a plan well executed.

"You don't expect to use five [pitchers] in a 9-3 game, but we pretty much understood that it'd be that way before the game anyway," Bell said.

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

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