KANSAS CITY -- With a five-game skid history, Royals rookie Eric Hosmer pulled on a bright red Polo shirt and was reminded he shouldn't wear that color on Friday night. For a moment, he looked puzzled, then realized that the Cardinals and their red-clad fans from St. Louis would be in town for the first Interleague series.
Hosmer had to laugh, and there was a lot of that after Kansas City had pulled out a 10-inning, 2-1 victory over the Texas Rangers as 12,355 fans watched on Thursday night at Kauffman Stadium. It was the Royals' seventh walk-off victory this season, a much-needed launch into the big weekend series with their Missouri rivals.
"It was a big sigh of relief for us to pull that out tonight," Hosmer said. "We just showed a lot of heart from the team today. And Mikey's at-bat was unbelievable against [Neftali] Feliz throwing a 101 miles an hour almost every pitch. And Frenchy comes around the next inning and has an at-bat just like it."
"Mikey" is Mike Aviles and "Frenchy" is Jeff Francoeur. Hosmer was spot on about the effect of their late-inning battles at the plate. That all came after the Royals' Luke Hochevar and the Rangers' Derek Holland engaged in a ferocious pitching duel that lasted most of nine innings.
In fact, Holland seemed to have a 1-0 victory in hand as he began the ninth against Hosmer. Rangers manager Ron Washington stayed with left-hander Holland instead of his closer, Feliz, because Hosmer is a lefty batter.
"If I had had a right-hander out there at that point, Feliz would have come in," Washington said. "I wanted Holland to face Hosmer. He had two strikes on him, got a pitch out over the plate, and you tip your hat to Hosmer for what he did."
What Hosmer did was smack a single to center field. In came the flame-throwing Feliz, who gave up a single to Francoeur before getting two outs. But Feliz, in reaching a full count with Aviles, threw a wild pitch that put the runners at second and third.
The battle commenced: Aviles fouled off the next five pitches, some of them clocked at 100 mph.
"He throws a lot of strikes, a lot of balls over the plate, so there'll be something in there," Aviles said. "He's got a blessed arm, so it's just a matter of catching up to one and hopefully getting the good part of the bat on it."
Sure enough, on the 11th pitch of the at-bat, Aviles stroked a hard bouncer up the middle and shortstop Elvis Andrus got to the ball but had no play, allowing Hosmer to score for a 1-1 tie. Actually, Aviles thought everybody was going home right then.
"I thought it was getting through, without a doubt, and I don't even know how Andrus got to the ball. It was a heckuva play on his part, because if that ball gets through, the ballgame is over," Aviles said.
But not yet. Brayan Pena walked to fill the bases and Feliz was replaced by Mark Lowe, who got Alcides Escobar to tap back to the mound. The teams went into extra innings for the second straight night.
In the Royals' 10th, left-hander Darren Oliver got an out, but gave up singles to Melky Cabrera and, that guy again, Hosmer. His shot to right field put Cabrera at third base, and brought sidearming right-hander Cody Eppley to the mound to oppose Francoeur.
And this turned into a nine-pitch battle with four straight foul balls.
"I wanted to take a couple pitches and just feel him out, see what his plan was," Francoeur said. "After I spit on a couple of those sliders, I figured he was going to try to get me on a sinker, and get me to roll over. So I kept fouling them off. Finally, he left one up over the zone and I was able to hit it right back up over the middle."
His line drive to center dropped in front of the charging Craig Gentry, and the Royals mobbed Francoeur as he rounded first base. The merriment was nonstop. As Francoeur was being interviewed on TV, Alex Gordon gave him a shaving-cream pie in the face. Cabrera doused him with beer. Along came pitcher Bruce Chen, and, just to be helpful, doused Francoeur with a bucket of water.
"I came along to clean him up," Chen said piously. "We all work as a team."
Nobody cared, because this is a victory the Royals wanted badly.
"We went through a five-game losing streak where it seemed like we couldn't catch a break," manager Ned Yost said. "Every ball we hit, they would catch. Every time we'd try to put on a hit-and-run, it wouldn't work, every time we'd try to take the extra base, we'd get thrown out. Nothing was going our way, and this changes the tide a little bit, just mentally for the guys. It's a big win for us."
It also changed the tide for Yost's revamped batting order, which, among other things, had Gordon leading off and Billy Butler batting fifth. The unveiling was in Wednesday night's 11-inning, 5-4 loss, and the "top five" went a collective 1-for-20, with Hosmer's home run the only hit. That was duly mentioned by a reporter, a point that Yost remembered 24 hours later.
"The top five in our order went 12-for-24 tonight. So I'll just throw that out there," Yost said with a grin.
True enough, of the Royals' 14 hits, Gordon had one, Cabrera, Hosmer and Francoeur each had three, and Butler had two. Nice work by the new order.
Hochevar went 8 2/3 innings, yielding only Chris Davis' home run that led off the Rangers' second.
"I left a ball up out over the plate, and that's what happens," Hochevar said. "But my mentality was to be aggressive and attack 'em and go right after 'em."
He did that, giving an overworked bullpen a needed break, but he finally needed help after a pair of two-out singles in the ninth. Reliever Greg Holland, just up from Triple-A Omaha, got the third out on a nice running catch by Cabrera. Then he worked a perfect 10th, and, in his first day back, gained his first Major League victory.
"It was fun. I woke up this morning and I definitely didn't think I'd be coming into a situation like that here in Kansas City," Holland said. "I got the call this morning, drove over, and fortunately got in the game and was able to hold it there at one."
That he did, just at the right time.
"This win was huge, especially to stop the bleeding and especially how good Hoch pitched -- you don't want to waste a performance like that," Francoeur said.
"We needed this kind of win in this clubhouse to get everybody relaxed and get everybody having fun again."
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.