KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Alcides Escobar was going to take the first pitch that Neftali Feliz threw him, no matter what. After that, the Royals shortstop decided to keep taking pitches until he saw a strike.
Turns out he never got to see one.
Escobar walked on four pitches with the bases loaded and two outs in the eighth inning Friday night, giving Kansas City a 2-1 victory over the Texas Rangers in the opener of an important three-game series between teams in the playoff race.
“We had the utmost confidence he was going to get it done right there and he had a great at-bat,” said Royals manager Ned Yost, who chose to stick with Escobar despite his .238 batting average and the fact that he had walked just 18 times in more than 600 plate appearances.
Make that 19 times.
“I’m frustrated that I wasn’t able to locate where I wanted to, but I understand that’s part of the game,” Feliz said. “I need to keep my head up and try it again tomorrow.”
The Rangers dropped a half-game behind the Indians, which beat Houston 2-1 in a rain-shortened game, for the second AL wild-card spot. The Royals were three games behind the leading Rays, who were locked in an extra-inning game with the Orioles.
“These games are all going to be like this,” said Yost, whose Royals (81-72) are already assured of their first non-losing season since 2003. “They’re all going to be nail-biters. They’re all going to be close.”
This one was so close the Rangers and Royals scored matching runs in the second inning, and then started tossing up zeros the rest of the way.
The Royals finally broke through when Lorenzo Cain and Mike Moustakas hit consecutive two-out singles off the Rangers’ Jason Frasor (4-3) in the eighth. Pinch-hitter David Lough drew a walk on a full-count pitch, and Rangers manager Ron Washington brought in Feliz.
He promptly walked Escobar as a crowd of 30,000 roared.
Luke Hochevar (5-2) earned the win in relief of Ervin Santana, who allowed one run on five hits in 7 1-3 innings. Greg Holland worked the ninth for his 44th save.
“It stinks when you get taken out and you’ve got to rely on someone else. It’s hard to sit there and watch,” Frasor said. “It’s a tough spot for Neftali.”
The Rangers actually jumped out to an early lead when Adrian Beltre, whose .374 average coming into the game was the best of any current player at Kauffman Stadium, roped a single to lead off the second. It was followed by a double by A.J. Pierzynski for a 1-0 advantage.
The Royals answered in the bottom half when Salvador Perez led off with a double and Justin Maxwell, getting the start in right field, hit a two-out double to tie the game.
Kansas City kept wasting chances in the early innings, though.
Billy Butler grounded into a double play to end the first, and Moustakas grounded into another in the second. The Royals worked back-to-back walks in the fourth before Escobar flied out to center field to end yet another scoring threat.
The most egregious mistake came in the sixth, when Maxwell walked and Escobar was hit by a pitch from Rangers starter Martin Perez. Maxwell took off for third base with Alex Gordon at the plate, and he was easily thrown out by catcher Geovany Soto to end the inning.
Asked whether he was running on his own, Yost replied: “Yeah.” Good idea? “Nope.”
None of those jams was as tight as the one Santana worked out of in the fifth.
After retiring the first two batters, David Murphy doubled, Leonys Martin singled and Ian Kinsler drew a walk to load the bases. Santana recovered to strike out Elvis Andrus.
The Rangers had another opportunity in the eighth, but Hochever got Andrus to fly out to left and Alex Rios to ground out to first to leave Kinsler standing on first base.
“Every game is so big, and that’s what makes it fun,” Hochevar said. “The intensity, the electricity in the ballpark that we’ve had during this push, it’s been awesome.”