For the first time in quite a while, the Texas Rangers didn’t have all the answers.
After the Rangers fought back from a three-run deficit to tie it in the seventh, the Kansas City Royals threw a counter punch in the form of a solo homer by Salvador Perez in the eighth inning to win the series finale 4-3 before a crowd of 38,202 at Kauffman Stadium on Sunday.
Perez turned on a 97 mph fastball from rookie Keone Kela that ran back over the plate and sent it over the wall in left field. Royals closer Greg Holland retired the side in order in the ninth to earn his ninth save and snap the Rangers’ three-game win streak and prevent a sweep.
Texas (30-27) begins a three-game series at Oakland on Tuesday after a day off on Monday when the first-year player draft begins.
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“It’s pretty cut and dried, it’s as simple as it gets,” said Kela, who hadn’t allowed a run in his previous seven innings. “I didn’t execute my pitch and he executed. That’s baseball.”
It was a bitter way to lose, however, after the Rangers rallied with one out to score three runs in the seventh.
Mitch Moreland, who had two of the Rangers’ six hits, started the rally with a one-out opposite-field single in the seventh. Earlier, Moreland broke up Royals starter Jeremy Guthrie’s no-hitter with a two-out double off the wall in left in the fourth.
Joey Gallo followed Moreland in the seventh with a single before the Royals turned to Kelvin Herrera to face Elvis Andrus, who was quickly in an 0-2 hole. Andrus fought off several pitches before singling through the right side.
With the bases loaded, Leonys Martin was in the same 0-2 hole before singling through the right side, scoring two runs to pull Texas to within 3-2. Robinson Chirinos’ groundout to short scored Andrus to tie it at 3-3.
But the Royals held it there to set up Perez’s heroics in the eighth. Kela got two quick outs — a pop-out to shortstop and a strikeout before getting ahead of Perez 1-2.
“It was a great comeback,” Martin said. “We did our best to win the baseball game. It was a great rally for us with one out. [Guthrie] threw a pretty good game and kept the ball down.”
Rangers starter Colby Lewis was solid, too, after the Royals took a 2-0 lead with runs in the first and second innings.
He allowed another run in the fifth after a leadoff infield single by Alcides Escobar led to a run on a double by Kendrys Morales to the left-center gap that sliced away from Martin in center. He failed to cleanly field the ball, which allowed Escobar to score, making it 3-0.
“That was kind of disappointing,” Lewis said of the infield single. “Looked like [Morales’ double] was going to be a fly ball right at Leonys but it just kept slicing.”
But after the Rangers tied it in the seventh, manager Jeff Banister felt the sweep was there for the taking.
“It’s a tough one,” he said. “We struggled against Guthrie early. We were able to muster up three runs against one of their key guys in their bullpen. Two strikes, and to make a mistake like that [on Perez’s homer] ... you make a mistake to a guy like that he can make you pay.”
Kela said he was trying to use the same fastball against Perez that he used to strike out the previous hitter.
“I was trying to throw it for a strike on the outer half and it ran back over the plate and he executed on a mistake,” said Kela, who had two previous blown saves before taking the loss Sunday. “You have to understand the bitter to enjoy the sweet. I feel like I’ve been pitching very well up to this point. Even today, I was aggressive and in the zone and throwing strikes.”
Banister hopes Kela files away the memory for future reference when he’s up on a hitter 1-2.
“Hopefully, every time he goes out it’s a learning experience for him,” he said. “Maybe he’ll treat the at-bat a little differently. It just goes to show you that this game can be fragile. It can hinge on one pitch, which it did.”
The Rangers can still take solace in taking two on the road from the defending American League champions as they head to Oakland.
“It’s tough to sweep a series against a club with their experience,” Banister said. “This club is never going to lay down for anybody. They feel like they can beat anybody. This is not going to be a sad flight.
“You want to win series but you want to win games, too, when you have an opportunity to come back and we came back in the manner that we did to put ourselves in position to complete the day, it’s one of those tough ones. We’ll learn from it and move on.”
Stefan Stevenson, 817-390-7760