KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Royals needed something, anything to break their five-week funk.
Luke Hochevar provided at least a short-term lift with the kind of blink-and-you-might-miss-it performance Kansas City has been expecting since taking the lanky right-hander with the first overall pick of the 2006 draft.
Hochevar breezed through a three-hitter in a crisp 80 pitches for his first career complete game and Alberto Callaspo hit a two-run homer, helping the Royals return home from a miserable road trip to beat the Cincinnati Reds 4-1 Friday night.
"He was extremely efficient, obviously," Royals manager Trey Hillman said.
Kansas City needed it.
The Royals went 2-7 on their road trip and had lost 23 of 30 overall, in dire need of something positive in their first game at Kauffman Stadium this month.
Hochevar (2-2) did his part, becoming just the fifth pitcher since 2000 -- Colorado's Aaron Cook did it twice -- to get through nine innings in 80 pitches or less. There wasn't much offense (six hits), but homers by Callaspo and Billy Butler were enough to beat Reds starter Matt Maloney (0-1) in his second career start. The defense? Solid for one of the few times this season.
Those 32,959 fans who greeted the Royals in their return ended up with a crisply played baseball game to go with their post-game fireworks show.
"It gets us off to a good start and hopefully we get rolling and start winning some games back to back," Hochevar said.
Cincinnati got away with hitting .190 in three games against Washington, coming a bad throw away from pulling off a road sweep.
The Reds weren't so fortunate this time, allowing Hochevar to work quickly, swinging at the pitches he wanted them to.
"He was outstanding. He had his own pace and made us swing the bat," said Cincinnati's Adam Rosales, who was 0 for 3. "He was working his sinker, slider and making us hit the ball and we were getting ourselves out."
The Royals have struggled the past five weeks, hurt by poor hitting, bad pitching -- and even a gull.
One of the worst-hitting teams all season, Kansas City ranks near the bottom of the AL in average (.249) and runs (238). Pitching, a strength early on, has gone steadily downhill, the team ERA rising from a baseball-best 3.63 to 4.25, fifth in the AL.
There's been plenty of poor fielding (11 errors in eight games) and some bad luck, too, the strangest of it coming in Thursday's 4-3 loss to Cleveland, when the winning run scored after Shin-Soo Choo's single caromed off a seagull past center fielder Coco Crisp in the 10th inning.
Hochevar got the Royals off to a good start, breezing through the first inning in four pitches, needing just 11 the first two. He's had trouble working out of the stretch the past two seasons -- opponents hit .464 his first four starts this year -- but worked out of jams in the third and fourth innings.
Hochevar allowed Gomes' solo homer in the fifth inning, then retired the final 14 batters to become the first AL pitcher to throw nine innings in 80 pitches or less since Oakland's Rich Harden in 2005.
"When he's like that, you can't do anything but tip your hat to that guy," Gomes said. "I'm just glad he won't be out there tomorrow."
Butler supplied the early offense for Kansas City, hitting his fifth homer off Maloney in the first inning, and the switch-hitting Callaspo hit his first career homer from the right side in the sixth, a two-run shot to left that put the Royals up 4-1. Maloney finished the inning, but didn't come out for the seventh after allowing four runs on six hits, with five strikeouts.
Better still for Kansas City and its fans, there were no errors -- and none of the swallows darting around the stadium interfered with the action.
"It was a good win," Hochevar said.
- 2008 American Idol winner David Cook, who lives in nearby Blue Springs, Mo., attended the game.
- Butler's homer extended his hitting streak to eight games.
- Cincinnati's Willy Taveras is hitless in 27 at-bats after an 0-for-4 night against Hochevar.