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08/17/07 2:29 AM ET

Rangers upended by late Royals rally

Rheinecker's start spoiled by bullpen in eighth inning

ARLINGTON -- The Rangers 22-year-old rookie catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia was put in unfamiliar territory Thursday night against the Royals.

With the game tied in the eighth inning, Mark Grudzielanek dashed for home on a slow roller down the first-base side. Saltalamacchia caught the ball and was in position to make the play, but Grudzielanek slid underneath his tag. That started a Royals four-run rally as they went on to defeat the Rangers, 6-2, in the series finale at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.

Saltalamacchia has been in those types of plays before in the Minor Leagues, but it was just his second, "if that" play at the plate since being called up to the big leagues.

"There's a big difference [from the Minors] because you don't have those [big] guys charging," Saltalamacchia said. "It's one of those bang-bang plays and unfortunately it didn't go our way.

"It's a play I might have tried to go get instead of letting it come to me. I asked the umpire if I was in front of the plate and he said I was. He slid around the plate and made a good slide."

It prevented the Rangers from sweeping the Royals, and they also let John Rheinecker's second consecutive quality start slip away.

After Rheinecker retired the first batter in the eighth, Willie Eyre (4-6) came on in relief -- and the Royals took advantage.

After Grudzielanek scored, John Buck delivered the knockout blow three batters later with a three-run double against Eyre to give the Royals what proved to be an insurmountable, four-run lead.

Rheinecker, who has not won in his last four starts, provided one of his best outings of the season allowing two runs, both earned, on six hits over 7 1/3 innings. He retired 15 of the 22 batters he faced on grounders and had two inning-ending double plays.

"It wasn't bad," Rheinecker said of his outing. "I threw my changeup a lot. We'll keep going with that until they prove they can hit it."

Rheinecker regretted just one pitch on the night, a solo home run that he surrendered to Alex Gordon in the seventh inning, which tied the game at 2.

Rheinecker had thrown just 89 pitches when he was taken out but said he was "a little gassed," especially after a 22-minute rain delay during the middle of the fourth inning.

Manager Ron Washington said Rheinecker was "outstanding" but still hasn't determined who will start for the Rangers on Tuesday -- the day Rheinecker would start if he remained in the rotation. If Rheinecker does not start, he will be moved to the bullpen.

"We're going to go through the weekend and see how healthy [Kason Gabbard] and [Kameron Loe] are before we make a decision," Washington said.

While Rheinecker went deep into the game and left with the score tied, Washington had to rely on a depleted bullpen in the eighth without C.J. Wilson or Joaquin Benoit available.

"We certainly couldn't use the guys we would've liked," Washington said. "Willie got some ground balls for us and they just happened to get through. If they're a few inches to one side or the other it might have been a different story."

It appeared the Rangers (53-67) might complete their third sweep of the season, especially when they led, 2-1, after the sixth. When leading after the sixth, the Rangers were 43-1 entering Thursday.

After the Royals (53-67) scored a run in the first, Frank Catalanotto pulled the Rangers even with a leadoff home run in the bottom half of the inning.

The Rangers took the lead in the fifth when Saltalamacchia singled to center and scored on an Ian Kinsler single to right. But, the Rangers couldn't produce any runs to counter the Royals' four-run eighth.

"We had a chance to win and we didn't do it," Michael Young said. "We didn't swing the bats as well. They pitched well and deserved to win."

Royals starter Leo Nunez left the game in the fourth inning with a torn callous on his right thumb. John Bale, Ryan Braun, Zack Greinke and Joakim Soria pitched the final six innings. Braun (1-0) won his first Major League game.

Despite the loss, the Rangers did finish the nine-game homestand with a winning record, 5-4, and are now 32-29 at home.

Drew Davison is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.