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Rays 1 Royals 2: Win streak falls short of a dozen

MLB: New York Yankees at Tampa Bay Rays Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

The Rays lost to the Kansas City Royals 2-1 in a game marked by strong pitching and defense on both sides.

I can sum up the Rays offense pretty quickly. In the bottom of the third, the Rays took a 1-0 lead with some small ball. Brett Phillips got to first on an infield hit, stole second, moved to third on a grounder, and scored on a single.

The lead was very short-lived however, as Carlos Santana hit a solo homerun in the top of the fourth inning. And the tie was gone in the sixth, as the Royals strung three hits together for their second run.

The Rays did have a few opportunities thanks to getting five walks, but with just four singles (three I believe were infield singles) they just weren’t able to score runs.

The Royals pitchers — most notably starter Brad Keller - shut the Rays down. Watching them hit was like seeing the movie Groundhog Day, where the characters are stuck in the same rut. Swing and miss on sliders in the dirt. Roll over on a pitch and ground out. The only exception was Ji-Man Choi, who hit the same scorching line drive right into the waiting glove of the same shifted infielder seemingly every time (well at least twice). Because the Rays have been so good, and so resilient, across their win streak I kept expecting the bats to wake up. But I don’t even think they got anything into the outfield.

But you know what? I don’t even want to talk about this loss. It’s tough, but losses happen.

I want to talk about what went well tonight.

First, Kevin Kiermaier was responsible for two spectacular catches, although I am ambivalent about catch number one. In the top of the second inning, both Kiermaier and left fielder Austin Meadows were tracking down the same ball to the warning track. You can see it here:

This was clearly in left field and Meadows clearly didn’t realize Kiermaier was closing in. I’ve watched the replay several times and still can’t figure out whether KK was the hero or the goat here. On the hero side, the route Meadows was taking and the way he was approaching the ball made it unlikely that he’d catch it. On the goat side, Kiermaier’s catch was low probability as well, and a collision between the two was a real possibility.

But, he did catch it. And they didn’t collide.

Kiermaier also helped close out the eight inning:

This time there were no pesky left fielders in his way so we can simply appreciate the catch.

Secondly, Rich Hill. Rich Hill! Weren’t we talking about this guy as an opener at some point? Didn’t he seem washed up in spring training? Who is this guy? What sorcery does he perform to make major leaguers swing and miss on 88 mph fastballs and 78 mph curves? (If you are disinclined to believe my sorcery theory, here is a real analysis of what makes Hill tick).

Tonight Rich Hill became the oldest player to take the field in the history of the Devil Rays/Rays. He struck out 13, walked 0 (ZERO!), and induced 27 whiffs, with both the strikeouts and the whiffs career highs for a guy who has had a pretty long and successful career. It’s a shame that his teammates couldn’t lay off that damned slider at the shoelaces.

The other amazing thing is that Hill pitched eight innings. We’ve observed that Cash’s notorious quick hooks gets a lot slower when the Rays are behind. Have a 1 or 2 run lead? Your starter is probably not seeing hitters for a third time. Trailing by a run? We’ll let him eat those innings. But this strategy was possible because Hill remained sharp throughout. Yes, the Rays lost. Yes, that’s a shame. But the bullpen mostly got a day off and will be well positioned for the rest of the series.

Finally, Rich Hill pitches like a guy who has dinner reservations. A quick worker who doesn’t walk anyone can give us a game at just under 2.5 hours (yes, KC’s throttling of the Rays offense helped too).

The real test of this team comes tomorrow, as the the winning streak high recedes and they get back to the business of winning series.