Meche, after a wobbly start, recovered to pitch a complete game. And there was drama aplenty in the Rangers' eighth.
Meche walked Elvis Andrus to open the inning, although he was thrown out trying to steal by catcher Jason Kendall. But Michael Young also walked and Hillman came to the mound.
"I just wanted to make sure he felt good. I still liked the way the stuff was," Hillman said. "I just told him I can't continue to leave you out here if you're going to ball-four people. You've got to figure out a way to get a ground ball here. I felt like he was going to get out of the inning."
By then Meche's pitch total was well over 100, but he was still feeling strong. The bullpen was heating up.
"He just came out and asked me how I felt," Meche said. "Basically I said, 'I've been in here this long, let me battle my way out of this.' He just said basically, 'Let's go. The ball four is killing us.' And it did pretty much the whole day."
Josh Hamilton hit a ground ball, but it was just out of second baseman Chris Getz's grasp. He knocked it down, but it was an infield single. Vladimir Guerrero's fly ball was the second out. Up came Ian Kinsler and the count went to 2-2.
"At the end with Kinsler, I went to the curveball one too many times," Meche said. "I was just trying to get one I was really happy with, as far as bouncing right over the plate to see if I could get him to swing, and just left the last one up a little bit, just enough for him to shoot it to right."
Kinsler's line drive drove in Young to break the 2-2 tie.
"You could tell he wanted to be out there in the eighth. You could tell he wanted it to be his game to win or lose," Kinsler said. "He came right after me. He wanted to get ahead of me and put me on the defensive. The last pitch I was just able to get one out there to right field."
On the play, Hamilton was safe at third, but it was close enough on Jose Guillen's throw that Hillman argued long about the call. When play resumed, Meche got the third out.
Pinch-hitter Mike Aviles opened the ninth against Rangers closer Neftali Feliz with a single, but was wiped out in a double play. Scott Podsednik flied out and the Royals, the Majors' leader in one-run games at 13, had lost a squeaker for the eighth time.
In this game, they were just 1-for-13 with runners in scoring position. Maier came through with an RBI single that scored Butler in the fourth inning.
David DeJesus, who had launched two long fly balls against Rich Harden only to watch them be caught, finally cleared the wall in the fifth. The drive was just inside the right-field foul pole.
"I was talking to it," DeJesus said. "I was saying, 'Stay fair!' and it stayed."
That pulled the Royals and Meche into a 2-2 tie.
Meche walked four of the first seven Rangers he faced, not an auspicious beginning. He walked Andrus to start the first inning and, naturally, he scored. He walked Justin Smoak to start the second inning and, naturally, he scored.
"Terrible," Meche said. "Early I couldn't get used to the mound, it was a little flat so I kept pulling the ball. But I made a good adjustment for the most part. Just at the end I lost it a little bit again."
When it was over, Meche had given up seven walks and thrown 128 pitches, most in the American League this season. It was the fourth-highest pitch count of Meche's career.
So the Royals, who had lost their 20th game, were lodged in last place in the AL Central and stood 3-7 on this trip with only Sunday's game remaining.
Are the Royals seeing things slipping away?
"No. We're in every game. Every game is a close game," DeJesus said firmly. "One inning here, a couple of at-bats there, we can be right on the positive side. But right now we're losing those close games."
With nine losses in the last 12 games, Hillman sees an urgent need for a turnabout.
"Yeah, we've got to win," he said.