Bullpen spoils Meche's effort

Bullpen spoils Meche's effort

CLEVELAND -- Gil Meche was tough as steel, but the Royals' bullpen had a meltdown.

Franklin Gutierrez's three-run homer off Royals closer Joakim Soria carried Cleveland to an 8-5 victory over Kansas City, firing up 23,920 fans on Wednesday night at Progressive Field.

Meche, after surrendering two early home runs, asserted himself and took control of the Indians with an iron grip.

After he retired 17 straight batters and carried a 5-3 lead into the seventh inning, Royals manager Trey Hillman opted to go to his relief corps. A decision, a reporter suggested in the postgame news conference, that was easy to second-guess.

"Easy to second-guess?" Hillman said. "Well, he's over 100 pitches and it's late in the season. He's not going to have any extra rest. We're already falling apart with our rotation. I don't understand why there'd be second-guessing, it's a no-brainer for me. If people want to second-guess that decision, that's fine."

Hillman lost starter Luke Hochevar to an injury on Tuesday night and starter Kyle Davies had been optioned to Triple-A Omaha earlier. Also, Brian Bannister's last start ended in the second inning.

The Royals began the game by loading the bases with no outs on singles by Mike Aviles, Esteban German and David DeJesus. But they got just one run, on Jose Guillen's sacrifice fly. Billy Butler ended the inning with a double-play grounder.

In the bottom half after two outs, third baseman Alex Gordon made a throwing error. That brought up Jhonny Peralta, who banged a two-run homer off Meche. Then, in the second, Kelly Shoppach hit a solo shot.

Meche changed his approach.

"I just had to start to mix it up a little bit. I threw a lot more breaking balls early in the count and then went to my fastball late," he said.

The next 17 batters went down with Meche getting nine strikeouts along the way.

Meanwhile, the Royals went ahead with four runs in a fifth inning marked by a scary incident. After Gordon and John Buck each singled, Mitch Maier fouled off a bunt and on his next attempt, was struck in the face by Zach Jackson's pitch.

Maier left the game, suffering three facial fractures. That loaded the bases, with Mark Teahen running for Maier, and Mike Aviles ripped off a three-run double. He then stole third base and scored, after Shoppach made a wild throw to third.

After seven innings and 104 pitches, Meche was pulled from the game. He was asked if he could've pitched the eighth.

"Yeah. I felt good, I felt fine," he said.

Hillman concurred.

"He felt OK, I could've sent him out for another one," he said. "But we just lost two guys from our rotation and it doesn't make any sense to me this late in the season to ask him to go out and throw 120, 125 pitches."

So he went with right-hander Ramon Ramirez. Shoppach was the first batter, and belted his second home run over the left-field wall. Pinch-hitter Shin-Soo Choo walked and, after a sacrifice bunt, Hillman called on Soria.

Grady Sizemore walked, semi-intentionally, and Soria went to work on Gutierrez. On a 0-1 count, he blasted a three-run shot to left field, 401 feet from the plate.

"I'm no machine, I'm not perfect," Soria said. "Sometimes that is going to happen."

Sometimes he does seem like a machine. This was only his third blown save in 36 opportunities this season.

Before the inning was over, Soria gave up another run on a hit batter, a walk and Ryan Garko's single. Soria was relieved by Jeff Fulchino.

"Every one is a tough one. Sometimes this is going to happen. I tried to do my best to save the game and they hit me, they hit me with my best," Soria said.

The previous eight times that Meche had started a game, the Royals had won. Not this time, even though he clearly was zoned in.

"It was one of the better games he's pitched," Buck said.

Hillman said he didn't regret his decision to pull Meche.

"With the pitching moves today, I wouldn't have done anything different," he said.

The Royals lost their fourth straight game and for the 11th time in their last 13 games. With one game left, they're 1-7 on this trip.

And this was a tough one.

"It's a game we should have won," Meche said.

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