There was a point in the second inning of tonight’s game where I thought, “There’s no way the Rays can screw up this lead, with the Royals playing this badly.”
Let me tell you, dear readers, that was definitely hubris on my part.
Things looked bad for Brad Keller almost right out of the gate, giving up a lead off single to Austin Meadows, followed by an Arozarena single, followed by a Joey Wendle fielder’s choice. Lowe grounded into a fielder’s choice that definitely should have been an inning-ending double-play, but instead scored Meadows and an error by Whit Merrifield allowed Wendle to arrive safely at second. While they didn’t get any other runs in the first, it seemed to signal a rough outing for both Keller and the infield.
Rich Hill had a clean one-two-three inning, and then the Rays were ready for Keller again. Kiermaier walked, then advanced to second on an Adames ground ball into a fielder’s choice that left both men safe on base (again, Merrifield misjudged his bearings and didn’t go for the easy out at first). Zunino walked to load the bases, and Meadows hit a sac fly to score Kiermaier. A Wendle single scored Adames, then Lowe walked to re-load the bases.
That was the end of the game for Keller, who was replaced by Jake Newberry, but a new pitcher didn’t cure the Royals second inning woes. Margot walked in another run, scoring Zunino; then Tsutsugo walked to score Wendle. By the end of the inning the Rays were up 5-0 and had already chased the game’s starter.
So you can see why I was high on positive thinking. The Royals were making messy plays in the field, their pitching was scrambling to find the zone, it was the kind of scenario where the Rays needed to strike often, then play clean baseball on their end.
They got the runs, but weren’t able to keep the wide lead.
Hill had another scoreless inning in the bottom of the second, but Newberry was also to keep the Rays from scoring to lead off the third, giving up some hits but all ending either in fielder’s choices or double-plays.
Things started getting ugly for the Rays in the bottom of the third. First a walk to Benintendi, then Taylor reached on a bunt single and things got... weird. An error by Hill allowed both Taylor and Benintendi to advance into scoring position. A Lopez single scored them both, and suddenly the Royals were on the board. Merrifield doubled, then Santana doubled to score both Lopez and Merrified. Hill was done, having given up four runs without recording a single out, and Andrew Kittredge came on in relief to close out the inning, but the damage was done and the five-run lead was cut down to one.
Brandon Lowe, who has been looking for a chance to get hot, hit a solo home run in the fourth to put the Rays back up 6-4. Brent Honeywell Jr came on in the bottom of the fourth, and with the exception of a walk to Taylor, looked pretty good.
In the top of the fifth, Kiermaier decided that this is his year to be really solid on offense and hit a double, followed by a long double from Adames (that frankly should have been caught), to score Kiermaier.
Honeywell was less sweet in the bottom of the inning, giving up a home run to Santana in a very patient at-bat. This was followed by a Perez walk and a Soler single, and thus ended the night for Honeywell. Hunter Strickland came on, and though he gave up a walk to Dozier there were no more runs scored. Score still 7-5 for the Rays.
In the sixth Whit Merrifield continued to help the Rays out with his malfunctioning glove. Arozarena singled, Wendle singled, then Lowe singled (which absolutely should have been caught by Merrified but instead the bases were loaded). More ball-handling issues benefited the Rays as a Margot single seemed to befuddle both Lopez and Benintendi (Margot got to second and the error was charged to Benintendi), and scored both Arozarena and Wendle to give the Rays a bigger buffer. A base hit from Tsutsugo blooped into center to score Lowe and Margot and extending the Rays lead to 11-5 with no outs.
The Royals executed a successful double play to collect two outs in the inning that didn’t seem to want to end. Adames was the final out of the inning, but the Rays had certainly done significant damage.
The Royals chipped away at the lead a little in the bottom of the inning with a Lopez double and a long, well-placed single by Merrified which scored Lopez. The Rays didn’t add any runs in the top of the seventh, and in the bottom Trevor Richards came on in relief. After a strikeout, he gave up a triple to Alberto, then Dozier grounded out to score Alberto.
By the time the ninth rolled around all I could see was players’ red noses and frosty breath. It did NOT look like a nice night to be playing baseball outdoors. Dome Sweet Dome.
Brett Phillips walked to lead off the ninth, followed by a home run to left off the bat of Mike Zunino. Rays up 13-7. Meadows followed that immediately with a solo home run to right, and there were some boisterous Rays fans in the crowd in KC.
Wendle hit a double to center giving him a three-hit night.
POSITION PLAYER PITCHING ALERT as Greg Holland gave way to third baseman Hanser Alberto, who managed to get the final out of the inning.
(•_•)— Bally Sports Sun: Rays (@BallyRays) April 21, 2021
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Richards continued on for the Rays in the bottom of the inning, and the Rays were able to get out of the ninth in a one-two-three fashion.
Final: Rays 14, Royals 7.