ARLINGTON -- The Royals know one thing: Mike Napoli was safe at home plate. What isn't so certain is what to do about closer Joakim Soria's struggles.
Soria's troubles continued on Sunday with another blown save in a 7-6 loss to the Texas Rangers. He gave up a tying homer and then the game-ending run in the ninth inning as a crowd of 45,011 roared in the Texas heat.
Crushingly, the Royals' loss came on a play that looked for all the world as if Napoli, charging all the way from first base on a two-out single, would be out. But catcher Brayan Pena's tag was high and Napoli was safe.
There was no objection to home-plate umpire Mike Estabrook's call from Royals manager Ned Yost.
"I thought he was safe," Yost said. "Brayan was in a perfect position in front of the plate, he stepped behind the plate and he stood up. The foot got in before he applied the tag at the chest."
This developed after Soria, brought in with the Royals ahead 6-5, threw a 3-1 slider down and in to Nelson Cruz. He crushed it and the ball soared into the left-field seats for a 6-6 score.
Napoli followed with a single to left field, but Soria rallied to strike out both Mitch Moreland and David Murphy. However, Elvis Andrus ripped a single through the second base hole into right field and Napoli was rambling from first base.
When he saw third-base coach Dave Anderson waving him home, Napoli was surprised.
"'Wow, he's sending me,'" Napoli remembered thinking. "I don't know, I was running hard and I didn't break stride, so I just kept going."
Meanwhile, right fielder Mitch Maier had fielded the ball and quickly got it to first baseman Eric Hosmer. Just as quickly, Hosmer fired a strike home.
"I was surprised they sent him," Hosmer said. "But, at the same time, it was late in the game and he's the winning run, so you've got to be ready for anything."
Pena took the throw and turned toward the charging Napoli.
"I thought that I had home plate covered and I was ready to tag him, I thought he was a little bit closer to me," Pena said."
Pena said he didn't step back to avoid a collision.
"No, not at all," Pena said. "I just thought I had more time. That's part of my job to go out and get hit."
Napoli, though, wasn't thinking about blasting into Pena.
"I think there was too much time for me to try to run him over, so I just went in hard," he said. "That's really all you can do. He could just swipe-tag me away if I try to run him over, but I went in low and hard and he tagged up high."
Thinking he was further up the line and had the plate covered, Pena tagged Napoli on the chest but, as Yost pointed out, his foot was already on the plate. Game over.
"I feel terrible about it. It was just a mistake," Pena said. "I thought that I had him, but when I saw the replay, I could tell that he was safe."
That was the immediate hard pill. Of longer-lasting impact, though, was Soria's situation.
"It's a struggle for him right now," Yost said. "But with Jack's track record and his ability, he'll figure it out. But I'm not going to deny that it's a struggle for him right now."
This was the fourth blown save for Soria in 11 chances this season, one more than he had all of last season. But Yost was adamant that Soria will remain the Royals' closer.
"Yes," he said when asked if Soria would be called for the next save situation.
"He's just struggling with his command. He threw a slider that ended up kind of down and in to Cruz. He struggled with his fastball and was starting to regain it a little bit there," Yost said.
Wiped out was a clutch leadoff double by Chris Getz in the Royals' ninth. His ball was juggled in the right-field corner by Cruz and the error allowed Getz to reach third. Alcides Escobar promptly drove him home with a sacrifice fly to deep left for a 6-5 lead.
The Rangers had gained a 5-5 tie in the eighth inning. Royals rookie Aaron Crow, virtually untouchable previously in his remarkable rookie start, came into the game with a 0.70 ERA and not scored upon in 20 of his previous 21 appearances. This game, however, proved to be the second exception.
With Andres Blanco, who singled and reached third base with two out on board, Michael Young drove a 3-0 fastball from Crow over the right-field wall for the tying, two-run homer. The ball just edged over the wall and a leaping Maier.
"I knew there was a chance that he was going to swing 3-0 with the tying run, and he was pretty sure a fastball was coming, so it was just bad execution on my part," Crow said. "Let's just learn from it and move on."
Royals starter Danny Duffy, the rookie left-hander in his third start, made his longest outing and gave up three runs -- two of them on homers by Napoli and Ian Kinsler.
"He's really focused, he's really doing a nice job. Doing exactly what we want our young pitchers coming up doing -- he's on the attack, he's banging strikes, he's making adjustments," Yost said. "I'm very pleased with where he's at."
Duffy left the game in the seventh with a 5-3 lead, courtesy of the star-crossed Pena.
Pena has a thing for this brick colossus known as Rangers Ballpark. Pena this season has three home runs, all good for three runs -- and all hit into the right-field stands right here in wind-swept Texas.
The latest came in Sunday's fourth inning and the blast into the upper deck topped off the Royals' five-run outburst. Four singles, by Melky Cabrera, Billy Butler, Wilson Betemit and Maier, served as a preamble.
Pena, a switch-hitter batting left-handed, connected on a 1-0 pitch from Alexi Ogando, the Rangers' undefeated right-hander.
In Friday night's five-run 14th inning that finished off the Rangers, 12-7, Pena connected for a three-run homer off right-handed reliever Dave Bush. The other three-run crusher came in the fourth inning of an 11-6 loss on April 22 to the Rangers against left-hander Derek Holland. Pena hit that one right-handed but also into the right-field seats.
With a happier finish, that topic would have made for a lively conversation for Pena. After the blown tag at the plate, though, the catcher was just heartsick. So there was no talk about his home runs.
"It doesn't mean anything right now," he said quietly.
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.