KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — David Murphy had three hits and Nelson Cruz drove in two runs, yet their late-inning catches in the outfield drew the most praise in the Texas clubhouse.
“The defense was outstanding,” Rangers manager Ron Washington said after a 4-3 win over Kansas City on Wednesday night. “Murphy and Cruzie just saved the game for us.”
Rookie Mitch Moreland homered again as the Rangers increased their division lead to 9 games over Oakland, which lost in New York.
With two Royals on base in the sixth, Murphy made an exceptional catch on Gregor Blanco’s fly down the left-field line to the warning track.
“Murphy made a great play on Blanco, that’s two runs,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “That absolutely saved the game for them.”
Said Murphy: “We know he tries to slap the ball the other way so we were playing the lines. I didn’t think it was going to carry as much as it did, but I got there at the last second and stretched and reached out and got it.”
In the ninth, Wilson Betemit and Billy Butler each sent Cruz to the right-field wall to make catches, allowing rookie Neftali Feliz to record his 34th save in 37 opportunities.
“They both smoked the ball,” Yost said. “I thought they both had a chance to go out. The outfielders were playing so deep. Billy just scalded it.”
Said Butler: “Almost every other park you can almost put it on the board, but not in this one. All that resulted in was a save for Feliz, instead of a tie game. The guy is throwing 100 miles per hour and I put the barrel on it. We play in the biggest park in the league, if not the biggest.”
“A lot of parks, Wilson’s is gone, too. In Texas, we may have two home runs hit back-to-back. We’re not playing in Texas, so it’s two outs,” he said.
Cruz said he knew he Butler’s long drive all the way.
“I think it probably wouldn’t have gone over, maybe it would have gone off the top of the wall,” he said. “He hit it pretty good. We put a lot of emphasis on our defense in the outfield.”
Moreland homered for the second straight game, leading off the sixth inning with a shot that made it 4-2. He has five home runs in his first 25 big league games.
“I’m just doing what I can,” Moreland said. “I’m trying to work better at-bats. I’ve been struggling to get my pitch. I just need to go back to my gameplan and be short to the ball.”
Tommy Hunter (12-2) allowed two runs on seven hits and four walks in 5 2-3 innings.
Elvis Andrus walked, Murphy singled and Cruz hit a two-out, two-run single in the first off Bryan Bullington (1-4).
The Royals manufactured a run in the third. Brayan Pena led off with a bunt single, Mitch Maier singled, Blanco sacrificed and Mike Aviles had a sacrifice fly.
Moreland walked in the fourth and scored on Andres Blanco’s. Yuniesky Betancourt, who hit seven home runs in August, hit his career-high 15th homer in the Royals fourth.
Aviles and Betancourt doubled in the seventh, pulling the Royals to 4-3.
Bullington gave up four runs and eight hits in 5 2-3 innings. After allowing two hits in eight scoreless innings Aug. 15 against the Yankees for his first big league victory, Bullington has allowed 17 runs on 28 hits in 14 2-3 innings.
Gil Meche, who was reinstated from the disabled list before the game, worked a scoreless ninth for the Royals. He gave up a single in his first relief appearance since Oct. 1, 2005, while with the Seattle Mariners.
NOTES: Rangers OF Josh Hamilton, who tops the majors with a .361 batting average, was held out of the lineup after receiving a shot Tuesday in his sore right knee. … Royals manager Ned Yost said with C Jason Kendall scheduled for right shoulder surgery Friday, Pena and Lucas May would share the catching duties. The recovery time for Kendall’s surgery is eight to 10 months. … Rangers 2B Ian Kinsler, who has been on the disabled list since July 28 with a left groin strain, was activated, but said he would not be at full strength until next year.