Royals edged, though Hochevar progresses

Royals edged, though Hochevar progresses

Royals edged, though Hochevar progresses
NEW YORK -- Luke Hochevar lost to the Yankees, but if there's any solace, he managed to look quite good in defeat.

Hochevar had one choppy inning that led to the 3-2 loss that he and the Royals were dealt on Tuesday night as the Yankees found ways to please a crowd of 37,674 after losing six of their previous seven games. The boos took a holiday at Yankee Stadium.

So now, if the Royals are to win their first season series from the New York Yankees since 1999, they'll have to come away with a victory on Wednesday night. The season series is tied at 3 going into the final game, in which the Royals will have left-hander Will Smith making his big league debut.

Hochevar set a pretty good example for the rookie with his work for 6 2/3 innings.

"Hoch pitched great," Royals manager Ned Yost said.

Hochevar held the Yankees scoreless for the first three innings -- making it 12 straight innings in the series -- and evidently that was quite enough for Robinson Cano. The Yankees second baseman had made life miserable for Hochevar previously -- going 5-for-11 with two homers -- and in the fourth, Cano pounded a home run into the right-field bullpen.

Then came the decisive fifth inning, marked by a rare error by right fielder Jeff Francoeur.

Mark Teixeira led off with a single that Francoeur, rushing into right-center, boxed, letting Teixeira reach second.

"For some stupid reason, I looked up and tried to look at Tex out of the corner of my eye, because I was playing pull and I felt like he was going to go for two," Francoeur said. "All of a sudden, the ball was right on me and I had to try with my bare hand. Stupid play.

"I told [Derek] Jeter when I got to second base [later], 'It's funny how you make all these different plays and that's the one play you boot, and it always seems like a couple guys score after that.' I felt bad for Hoch, because he was on a roll and if you keep him at first, maybe you've got a chance for a double play with Russell [Martin up]."

With Teixeira at second, Hochevar nicked Martin's uniform with a pitch to put him on base.

"I was trying to go in, and the ball got away and just caught his jersey," Hochevar said. "That's not what I want to happen. If I don't hit him, maybe they don't bunt. There's just a lot of things that can happen. That was just a big at-bat in that inning. After that, going through the heart of the lineup is a grind. But I tried to stay on the attack and fight my way through that inning."

Dewayne Wise's sacrifice attempt was such a good bunt that he beat out a single to load the bases with no outs.

"That's not a lineup that you want to load the bases with," Hochevar said.

Especially not with the guy who leads the American League in total hits coming up. Sure enough, Jeter punched an RBI single to right-center.

"That was the pitch I wanted to throw and the pitch I was committed to," Hochevar said, "but he's a good hitter, and good hitters hit good pitches."

A second run scored as Curtis Granderson grounded out and the Royals decided to intentionally walk Cano to again the load the bases. That strategy surprised Yankees manager Joe Girardi.

"You have a guy who is a ground-ball pitcher, but I'm surprised because it is Alex Rodriguez and you've seen the stat -- he has 22 career grand slams," Girardi said. "They did it a couple years ago, and he hit a grand slam every time. I am surprised, but managers are going to play percentages. Sometimes it might not work out, but sometimes they do."

This time, it worked for Yost because Hochevar reached back and struck out both Rodriguez and Raul Ibanez.

"He limited the damage big-time in the fifth inning, and I thought he pitched a darn good game," Yost said.

The Royals couldn't do much against right-hander Phil Hughes but did briefly hold a 2-0 lead.

Irving Falu tied a Royals record when he singled to left field to lead off the third inning. He has hit safely in all nine of his games since being called up from Triple-A Omaha. That matches the club record for longest hitting streak at the start of a big league career; Mike Kingery had a hit in his first nine games in 1986.

After moving up on a groundout, Falu scored on Humberto Quintero's double to right field. Falu has also scored in seven of his nine games; not bad, either.

Facing Hughes, a pitcher who had held him hitless in eight at-bats with five strikeouts, Francoeur extracted some satisfaction in the fourth inning. Frenchy drove a 2-0 pitch into the left-field seats for his second homer in two nights and third this season.

"I knew I was due at some point," Francoeur said. "[Hughes] was good tonight. He mixed up pitches well, and that first four or five innings, he was overpowering us with that heater."

After Hughes left, five Yankees relievers combined to shut out the Royals over the last three innings. There was one last gasp in the ninth, when Alex Gordon hit a ground-rule double to right and took third on the second out. Facing Rafael Soriano, Alcides Escobar hit a hard bouncer down the third-base line. Rodriguez made the play and threw high to first, where Teixeira stretched for the catch.

"When I hit the ball, I thought I had time to beat it," Escobar said. "And it was really a close play."

Sure was, but Escobar was called out and the game was over.

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