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Royals rally to apply heat in Wild Card race

Escobar's bases-loaded walk in eighth sinks Rangers in opener

KANSAS CITY -- Electricity crackled through Kauffman Stadium. The crowd of more than 30,000 was roaring. The Royals had the bases loaded in the eighth inning in a tie game.

Alcides Escobar strode through the tumult with one thought on his mind.

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KANSAS CITY -- Electricity crackled through Kauffman Stadium. The crowd of more than 30,000 was roaring. The Royals had the bases loaded in the eighth inning in a tie game.

Alcides Escobar strode through the tumult with one thought on his mind.

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"When I walked to home plate to hit, I was going to take one strike anyway," Escobar said. "It doesn't matter if he throws me a fastball down the middle, I'll take one strike."

Texas reliever Neftali Feliz never did throw a strike and Escobar took a walk that forced in the go-ahead run of the Royals' 2-1 victory on Friday night in the American League's Wild Card scramble.

The victory was the Royals' 81st, meaning they can't finish under .500 and their string of nine straight losing seasons is over. They are 2 1/2 games back of the Indians (84-70) for the second Wild Card spot. Tampa Bay (84-69) is the leader, while Texas (83-70) trails Cleveland by a half-game. The Royals and Orioles are right behind at 81-72.

"We've broken the streak of losing seasons, but we don't have a winning season," manager Ned Yost said. "It's nice, that's the farthest thing from our mind right now. Tomorrow, we have another big game, and hopefully we come out and win tomorrow and set forth with a winning season. Each day is important. We take each day at a time and winning the ballgame is the goal."

Paid attendance was 21,837, but actually numbered more than 30,000 because it was a ticket exchange night in which season-ticket holders could trade in unused tickets. They came in full-throated volume.

"To have a crowd like that, the energy coming from a crowd like that is a difference maker," said winning pitcher Luke Hochevar. "It pumps you up and takes you to the next level. You just want to hear a big roar at the end of that inning."

Hochevar's moment came after he retired both batters he faced in relief of starter Ervin Santana, who pitched a strong game into the eighth inning. Santana finished 7 1/3 innings, yielding one run on just five hits and a walk.

"The defense was off the charts tonight," Santana said. "Escobar, [Emilio] Bonifacio were unbelievable. They made good plays for me tonight."

Those came in the first four innings. Escobar, the shortstop, raced into left field for a difficult popup and ranged behind second base for a grounder, and got the out with a sidearm throw. Bonifacio, the second baseman, went to the middle for a groundout and leaped high to grab a liner.

"We tried to take some hits away and give Santana a chance to keep away from long innings," Bonifacio said.

The Rangers' lone run came in the second inning on Adrian Beltre's single and A.J. Pierzynski's double. Santana's toughest test came in the fifth inning when, after two outs, the Rangers loaded the bases. He ended the fuss by fanning Elvis Andrus.

"He had some good games against us in Anaheim so it's not surprising that he was able to do that," said Rangers manager Ron Washington. "Sometimes he hangs out there and can be a pretty good pitcher. You get behind in the count on him and he can put you away."

Left-hander Martin Perez, a rookie, was facing the Royals for the first time. They got a second-inning run as Salvador Perez singled and, after a Lorenzo Cain single and a double play, scored on Justin Maxwell's double that bounced past center fielder Leonys Martin.

So it was 1-1 and that's the way it stood until the last of the eighth. Right-hander Jason Frasor took over for the Rangers and got two strikeouts. But Cain singled up the middle and Mike Moustakas dumped a single into left field. David Lough was sent out to pinch-hit for Maxwell and drew a walk on a 3-2 pitch.

"The best part of the game was D-Lo -- David Lough's at-bat," Escobar said. "He did a great job over five or six pitches and got the walk."

So out of the bullpen came former closer Feliz for just his sixth appearance for the Rangers since coming off the disabled list on Sept. 1. He had Tommy John surgery and hadn't pitched since May of 2012.

Did Yost consider using a pinch-hitter for Escobar? Never entered his mind.

"Here the last two weeks, he's been as locked in as anybody we've got both at the plate and in the field. In the field, it's been obvious," Yost said. "Both Pedro [Grifol, hitting coach] and I looked at each other in that situation and we both had the utmost confidence that he was going to get it done right there, and he had a great at-bat."

Escobar had walked just 18 times in 616 plate appearances this season and had not drawn a pass in his last 78 trips to the plate. But he was determined to be patient.

"I was waiting for a strike because I hadn't seen that guy for a long time," Escobar said. "He came from the DL and before that he threw like 99, 100 [mph] and now he throws 92, 94. I wanted to see his pitches come in."

He did and saw four straight fastballs, 94 and 96, miss the plate. Cain jogged home. Feliz was immediately replaced by Joseph Ortiz and Alex Gordon grounded out, but the eventual winning run had scored.

Closer Greg Holland made certain of that with two strikeouts and a deep flyout to center. Holland recorded his 44th save, one shy of the club record shared by Dan Quisenberry (1983) and Jeff Montgomery ('93).

The crowd, on its feet, roared again as the Royals exchanged high-fives on the field.

"It's a blast. I love it," Lough said. "I think everybody in here knows what we're capable of doing here so we're riding with it and it's awesome. It's great to see all the fans show up here, too, which is good. Usually in September, you see crowds like last year. Nobody there. This year it's a lot different. We're winning and we're in that chase for the Wild Card."

Dick Kaegel is a reporter for

Kansas City Royals, Emilio Bonifacio, Alcides Escobar, David Lough, Ervin Santana