Boston When the ball left Carl Crawford’s bat, Jeff Francoeur thought it was going over the short wall in right field. And he was prepared to go into the stands after it.
Francoeur turned his back to the plate and headed for the fence, only to turn around after the ball got caught in the breeze and make a basket catch that ended Boston’s final threat Thursday.
“Good thing there’s no Green Monster in right field,” Francoeur said, “or we’d be talking about a 5-4 Red Sox win.”
Instead, Joakim Soria retired Yamaico Navarro for the final out, and the Kansas City Royals left Boston with 4-3 victory over the Red Sox. Billy Butler homered for the third straight game, and Luke Hochevar pitched seven strong innings to help the Royals, last in the AL Central, split the four-game series with the AL East-leading Red Sox.
Hochevar (7-8) allowed two runs on six hits and a walk while matching his season high for strikeouts with six. He retired 14 of the last 16 batters he faced and gave up just one extra-base hit, a third inning double by Navarro.
“He was dynamite,” manager Ned Yost said. “Just dynamite.”
Hochevar left with a 4-2 lead, and Dustin Pedroia led off the eighth with a home run over the Green Monster on a 3-2 pitch from Greg Holland. But Holland got Adrian Gonzalez, Kevin Youkilis and David Ortiz on groundouts to end the inning, and Soria came on to pitch the ninth.
With one out, Drew Sutton lined a hit off Soria’s glove for a single, then pinch-hitter Crawford hit a long fly ball to the warning track in right.
“I thought it was gone,” Francoeur said. “That’s why I put my head down and just started running. ... I wasn’t worried about catching it. I was thinking about getting back to the wall.”
Francoeur turned around and caught it in the middle of the warning track, and Soria struck out Navarro to earn his 19th save.
“I was getting up to celebrate,” Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. “I thought he got plenty, then the wind knocked it down.”
Josh Beckett (9-4) lost for the first time in a month, giving up four runs — three earned — on five hits and three walks while striking out eight. The Red Sox had won six of their last seven games to move to a season-high three games ahead of the second-place New York Yankees in the AL East before Thursday’s loss.
Boston took a 2-0 lead in the third when Jason Varitek singled, Navarro doubled and they both scored on a single by Jacoby Ellsbury. But the Royals went ahead in the fourth when Beckett gave up back-to-back walks to start the inning and Butler followed with his 10th homer of the season, to straightaway center field.
After Francoeur reached on a two-base error, Beckett gave up Mike Moustakas’ RBI double to make it 4-2.
Pedroia led off the eighth inning with a home run over the Green Monster to cut the lead to one run and extend his hitting streak to 25 games; he has reached base in 37 consecutive games.
Notes: Eric Hosmer, a rookie, extended his hitting streak to 10 games with a single to lead off the second. ... The Red Sox went without a hit from Gonzalez’s single in the third until Drew Sutton led off the seventh with a blooper to center. ... Pedroia’s hitting streak is the longest ever for a Red Sox second baseman.