Meche settles down, pitches Royals over Rays

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP)—Gil Meche promised John Buck he’d pitch a good game if he could shave the catcher’s head.

Buck lived up to his end of the bargain. He has the shiny dome and razor burns to prove it.

Meche followed through, too, though it took a little longer.

Meche pitched seven scoreless innings after a shaky start and Buck drove in two runs after his pregame haircut, helping the Kansas City Royals hold off Tampa Bay 4-2 Thursday night to extend the AL East-leading Rays’ road losing streak to seven games.

“He was begging to do it, promised me he’d pitch good, and I’m a catcher, I’ll do anything to help a pitcher,” said Buck, who opted to keep his goatee to offset the clean pate. “He kept his promise.”

It didn’t look like he would at first.

Bothered by sweat on his arms and hands from the humidity, Meche (8-9) had a miserable first inning, needing 26 minutes and 31 pitches to get out of it. He did it without giving up a run, though, getting Carlos Pena to fly out with runners on first and third.

Meche had a few more problems in the second inning, giving up two more singles, then got into a rhythm—and his arms dry—not allowing a runner past first base the rest of the way.

The right-hander gave up five hits and walked one, beating an AL East team for the first time in seven starts this season.

He had some help, too.

Royals shortstop Mike Aviles ranged far to rob Cliff Floyd of a single, then left fielder David DeJesus took extra bases away from Dioner Navarro with a sprawling catch down the line four pitches later.

“He didn’t start off very good, obviously, way too many pitches, having trouble putting hitters away,” Royals manager Trey Hillman said. “It was really impressive to see him make up for it, getting ahead in the count and staying ahead. It took him three to get it going, but he stuck with it once he got it going.”

Kansas City appeared well on its way to ending a four-game home losing streak after taking a 4-0 lead into the eighth inning. Then it started raining and things got interesting.

Tampa Bay cut the lead to 4-1 on B.J. Upton’s RBI groundout off Ron Mahay. Evan Longoria led off the ninth by hitting Joakim Soria’s first pitch down the line in left for a double. Carlos Pena followed with a single and Floyd made it 4-2 with a sacrifice fly.

That was it for the Rays, though. Soria got Navarro to ground into fielder’s choice, then ended the game by striking out Eric Hinske for his 27th save in 29 chances.

Tampa Bay is hitting .191 with runners in scoring position its last 14 games, including 1-for-5 Thursday night.

“We were trying to get it done all at once,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “More than anything, I would just like to see us get back to our line-drive approach and it’s going to happen.”

Rays starter Matt Garza (8-6) was coming off a solid outing, allowing two hits in 7 2-3 scoreless innings against Toronto.

But he had to follow it with a game against Kansas City, a team he can’t seem to beat no matter what he does.

The right-hander entered with a respectable 3.42 ERA in four career starts against the Royals, but was 0-3. Garza’s tough luck against the Royals continued on a steamy night at Kaufman Stadium, where he allowed four runs and eight hits and walked four in five innings.

“I just kind of felt out of whack,” said Garza, who had no strikeouts for the first time in 45 career games. “It was weird that I couldn’t find a rhythm.”

Kansas City got one run off Garza in the first inning on Mark Grudzielanek’s sacrifice fly, then three in the fourth on a run-scoring single by Ross Gload and Buck’s two-run single.

That was all Meche needed to get comfortable and live up to his promise to Buck.

“I told him after the game, his head’s staying like that for a while,” Meche said. “We’re going to keep shaving that head every fifth day. It was a fun day. I think he looks pretty good like that.”

Notes

Royals OF Mitch Maier, recalled from Triple-A Omaha before the game, got his first hit in the majors since Sept. 28, 2006, with an infield single in the fourth inning. … Tampa Bay’s Jason Bartlett was 3-for-3 in his first game since missing 16 games with a right knee sprain. … Royals RF Mark Teahen, nursing a sore back, didn’t play for the third time in four games.

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