KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The 100 or so friends and family who trekked across Missouri hoping to see Bobby Keppel's first major league victory had a night filled with boos and cheers.
When Kansas City manager Buddy Bell removed Keppel with one on and no outs in the ninth after the rookie had pitched eight shutout innings, they -- and seemingly everyone else in the stadium -- booed.
Then, after the Texas Rangers rallied for four runs to beat the Royals 4-2 on Wednesday night, the Keppel party waited outside the demoralized Kansas City clubhouse and cheered when the hard-luck rookie emerged.
"This is my 14th day up here," said Keppel, a St. Louis native who labored almost six years in the minors before the Royals brought him up on May 25. "I'm going to trust my manager's decision. I had visions of finishing that game, trust me. That's how I saw it ending."
Gary Matthews' two-run double off Elmer Dessens capped the four-run ninth inning and lifted the Rangers to the victory as the Royals lost their ninth straight home game.
Keppel carried a six-hit shutout into the ninth but Bell brought in Ambiorix Burgos (1-3) after Hank Blalock's leadoff single.
The Rangers then loaded the bases on a single and a hit batsman. Ian Kinsler made it 2-1 with a sacrifice fly before Rod Barajas hit a 1-2 pitch into center for an RBI single.
Matthews' hit sealed the win and dropped Kansas city to 14-43, the majors' worst record and a pace that would rank them among the worst teams in modern history.
Akinori Otsuka (2-1) went two innings for the win and Francisco Cordero pitched the ninth for his fifth save.
"Unbelievable," Matthews said.
Barajas knew he was one strike away from failure.
"When the game is on the line, everybody wants to step up and be the guy that gets that big clutch hit," he said. "I'm trying to get back to my comfort zone. For this to happen right now is definitely a boost. If you swing and miss, the game is over."
After the crowd of a little more than 11,000 booed Bell, they gave a standing ovation to Keppel, who has struggled for so long to get his first major league win since the New York Mets made him a first-round draft pick in 2000.
"The standing ovation, thank you, guys," he said.
Despite the loss, Keppel's crew was all smiles when their man walked through the clubhouse doors.
"My parents were here, extended family was here," he said. "High school teammates, grade school teammates, family and friends."
The Royals will introduce Dayton Moore, their new general manager, at a news conference on Thursday. But there seems no end to the misery of what could turn out to be a historically bad season. They're on pace to challenge the major league record of 120 losses by the 1962 Mets.
"I'm not taking anything away from Kansas City," Barajas said, "but these are the games we expect to win. I'm not saying we feel like we are better than them."
John Koronka gave up six hits and two runs in 6 1/3 innings for Texas in the first matchup of rookie starters in the American League this season.
After giving up a run in the first on Emil Brown's infield out with the bases loaded, Koronka allowed two singles and no walks until the fifth when Doug Mientkiewicz singled and scored on David DeJesus' double.
Keppel had allowed four earned runs in 13 1/3 innings since being called up from Triple-A Omaha. But on Bell's mind was the fact he had thrown six scoreless innings in his previous start at Seattle before allowing back-to-back home runs in the seventh.
"You've got to do what's best for Kep and you've got to do what's best for the team," Bell said. "In that situation, you want him to get the shutout. You want him to get the win. But you also don't want the same thing tonight that happened in Seattle, when he was up in the zone."
Royals DH Mike Sweeney swung a bat for the first time since he went on the DL May 2 with a bulging disc and said he felt fine. Sweeney is hopeful of getting back in another couple of weeks. ... Bell was feeling better after going to the doctor Tuesday with kidney stone issues. ... Rangers LHP Brian Anderson has re-torn an elbow ligament that was thought to have been repaired with surgery last July. An MRI on Tuesday revealed the tear. Anderson will have to decide if he wants to have additional surgery.