Gathright gave Cleveland two runs when he lost a fly ball, but redeemed himself royally. First, he threw out a runner at the plate, and then he knocked in the winning run as the Royals defeated the Indians, 4-3, at Kauffman Stadium.
"Joey came in there and kind of picked himself up," Royals starter Gil Meche said.
The last-place Royals' victory over the American League Central champions had the crowd of 24,274 roaring at the finish.
Gathright's clutch, two-out hit in the eighth climaxed a turbulent inning.
Mike Sweeney led off with a single. Esteban German bunted but was declared out when catcher Victor Martinez's throw drilled him in the back. Umpire Bill Welke ruled that German strayed out of the three-foot lane and interfered with the throw. Royals manager Buddy Bell animatedly debated the call and Welke ejected him.
Later, Bell acknowledged that Welke made the right call, but argued that the rulebook defies logic on such plays. His point is that a runner has to leave the lane to reach the base, which is in fair ground.
"I think Este probably came into fair territory a little bit, but you have to if you are going to touch first. Bill was right in making the call.... [But] it's called too often, and it's a bail-out call," Bell said.
Let's leave that for the rules committee. The immediate effect was that Justin Huber, pinch-running for Sweeney, had to return to first base and there was one out. Alex Gordon singled and Huber took second.
The Indians switched relievers, from Rafael Perez to Jensen Lewis, and pinch-hitter Shane Costa struck out. Up came Gathright, who lined a single to right field that scored Huber to snap a 3-3 tie.
"Joey seems to have a knack for that," Bell said. "He's hitting over .300 and has a knack for getting the bat on the ball and getting big hits. It was a huge hit, obviously, just because the way the game had gone."
It had gone rather crazily. The Royals jumped on Jake Westbrook for three runs in the first inning, indicating that Meche might be in for a rich bonanza. He's been a needy case, getting the least run support of any AL pitcher. But, no, that was all he got.
Meche issued two walks in the third inning, but the third out seemed apparent in the form of Martinez's pop fly. Left fielder Gathright lost the ball in the gloaming.
"We call it twilight," Gathright said. "It's just one of those times when you can't see it. I saw it off the bat, but when it went up, I didn't see it. You have to depend on your teammates to help you out. Dave [DeJesus] tried to catch it but it just didn't happen."
DeJesus' made a mad dash from center but, no use, the ball thudded to the grass. Both runners scored and Martinez was credited with a two-run single.
Gathright got on the road to redemption in the sixth inning. With two out, Ryan Garko doubled and cantered toward home on Jhonny Peralta's hit. However, Gathright quickly fired a strike to catcher John Buck and Garko was out at the plate.
"I've had a few close plays at home that weren't too accurate and tonight I got lucky. That was right on the money," Gathright said.
And, whew, just in the nick of time.
"Doesn't matter how you get 'em, as long as you get 'em," Gathright said.
The guy who got 'em from the pitching side was closer Joakim Soria. He got the last six outs and earned the victory.
Soria inherited a sticky situation. Three straight singles off Jimmy Gobble enabled the Indians to gain a 3-3 tie in the eighth. Soria came on and struck out Garko.
There was an uneasy interlude as Mark Grudzielanek went behind second base to snag Peralta's bid for a hit and flipped to shortstop Tony Pena, who dropped the ball for an error and the bases were loaded.
Yet, as Soria pointed out: "It was a very good play by Grud. It saved a run."
Soria got the next two batters to end the inning, then worked a perfect ninth. He got the victory, his second.
Meche didn't get the win, but he had seven strikeouts and matched his career-high total of 156 last year for Seattle. He finished with a 9-13 record despite 23 quality starts and a 3.67 ERA.
"It's just been bad luck. What do you do? I'm not somebody to sit here and complain," Meche said. "I had a great year with all my numbers. I surpassed everything that I was going to try to do with a new team, and I was very pleased with how I pitched."
And Gathright was pleased, sort of.
"A little bit," Gathright said, then nodded toward Meche. "I'd rather get the win for him, though."
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.