Hochevar stymies Mariners for win

Hochevar stymies Mariners for win

KANSAS CITY -- That Joakim Soria -- what a guy. He knows how to pamper his wife, Karla.

"It was my wife's birthday," he said. "This was another present."

Soria pitched a perfect ninth inning to nail down the Royals' 3-1 victory over the Seattle Mariners on Friday night amid the applause of 25,345 fans at Kauffman Stadium. Among them, of course, was Karla, the birthday girl. Honey, here's save No. 25.

Heck, just the night before, Soria also pitched a 1-2-3 inning for a save against Chicago. That came on his and Karla's first wedding anniversary. What a guy.

But there were other guys giving gifts of good performance against the Mariners.

Rookie Luke Hochevar pitched seven superb innings for his sixth victory. Setup man Ramon Ramirez worked a scoreless eighth to pave the way for Soria. Just the way the Royals' brain trust planned it.

"It worked," Ramirez said, "and it's good."

Joey Gathright and David DeJesus each delivered crucial RBIs with two-out hits in the fifth inning.

Those came against the Mariners' young right-hander, Felix Hernandez. Coming back from a disabled-list stay and four straight wins before that, Hernandez retired the first 10 batters he faced before Mike Aviles doubled.

That was all that the Royals could muster until after Hernandez got two outs in the fifth. Then, Ross Gload singled up the middle and stole second base. John Buck worked a walk. Gathright lined a single to left field for a 1-0 lead.

All of a sudden, the hard-throwing Hernandez's outing was fraying at the edges.

"He's a tough pitcher, but he hadn't pitched for a while, so I don't know if he was out of sync or what. But after coming off the DL, he's not as sharp as pitching every five days," DeJesus said.

Up came DeJesus for an eight-pitch battle with Hernandez that included a wild pitch that moved the runners to second and third. DeJesus fouled off five pitches -- one a whopper near-home run that sailed just outside the right-field pole.

"That's as good an at-bat against that kind of pitcher that you're going to see," manager Trey Hillman said.

Especially good, because on the eighth pitch, DeJesus hit a line drive that carried over right fielder Ichiro Suzuki for a two-run double.

"I thought Ichiro was going to run it down and once he turned his back fully to me, I knew it was over his head," DeJesus said. "I think he was playing a little bit in."

Hernandez finally closed out the inning with a strikeout -- his eighth in just five innings and his return was over after 83 pitches.

Hochevar labored on through the seventh when he gave up the Mariners' only run on Adrian Beltre's leadoff double and two groundouts. Hochevar gave up just five hits and walked no one.

He figured it was his best outing of the season.

"Just for the fact that I saw the light come on with my approach and my pitchability tonight," he said. "Buck called a great game and every pitch he put down, I was thinking it."

Then the bullpen took over -- Ramirez and then the remarkable Soria. He got Jose Vidro on a little tap that Buck pounced on, struck out Beltre and got Jeremy Reed on a grounder to second. Nothing to it.

"To hand the ball to that guy is pretty special," Hochevar said.

Sure, because Soria is dealing out perfect innings for a birthday and an anniversary.

"A lot of celebrating," Soria said. "July is a lot of fun."

And in two days, he'll be off for more July fun as the Royals' All-Star at Yankee Stadium. There's a lot going on for him.

"My parents come tomorrow," he said.

The folks are arriving from Monclova, Mexico. Sounds like another perfect inning, another save might be in order. You can never give out too many presents, after all.

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