DAVE SKRETTA, AP Sports Writer
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Neftali Feliz walked Alcides Escobar on four pitches with the bases loaded and two outs in the eighth inning Friday night, giving the Kansas City Royals a 2-1 victory over the Texas Rangers in the opener of an important three-game series between teams in the playoff race.
Texas dropped a half-game behind the Indians for the second AL wild-card spot with the loss. Cleveland beat the Houston Astros 2-1 in rain-shortened game. The Royals were three games behind Tampa Bay. The leading Rays played Baltimore.
The Rangers and Royals scored matching runs in the second inning before two stingy pitching staffs started throwing up zeros.
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 to load the bases, and Rangers manager Ron Washington brought in Feliz.
He promptly walked Escobar, a .238 hitter, on four pitches as a crowd of 30,000 roared. It was just the 19th walk that Escobar had earned in more than 600 plate appearances this season.
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.
The Rangers 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 lead.
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, 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 suddenly 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.
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 and leave all three aboard.
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.
NOTES: RHP Matt Garza goes to the mound for the Rangers on Saturday night. The Royals counter with RHP Jeremy Guthrie. … Soto gave Pierzynski a night off behind the plate. Washington said it had nothing to do with a bruised finger that Pierzynski had on his glove hand.
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