With long-awaited win, KC ends drought not seen in 103 years

June 25th, 2023

ST. PETERSBURG -- Royals right-hander waited at the top of the steps Saturday, giving out high fives as his teammates arrived from the visiting dugout to enter their victorious clubhouse at Tropicana Field. Smiles were all around.

Lyles finally escaped from the shadow of unwanted history -- the Royals had not won with him on the mound this season, an 0-for-15 streak that had set an MLB record in the Live Ball era (since 1920) -- and he did so resoundingly with Kansas City’s 9-4 victory over Tampa Bay.

“It was another reminder that shaking hands after games is a lot of fun,’’ said Lyles (1-11), after his first victory with the Royals. “Obviously, we haven’t done that when I’ve [started]. It feels really good to win.

“My mindset hasn’t changed, record-wise. I’m a very positive guy overall. I believe the next day is another day to get better. It might sound cliché, but I’m still learning and still trying to get better. I’m always looking to figure out something to get me over the hump.’’

Lyles said he was most pleased by the manner of Saturday’s victory. He went six innings, allowing four runs on eight hits. But he was solidly backed by the Royals’ offense, which erased a 4-0 Rays lead after two innings.

The difference was a two-out, three-run homer from catcher in the fourth off Rays starter Yonny Chirinos, giving the Royals a 6-4 lead they wouldn’t relinquish. and also contributed solo homers in the 11-hit attack.

But the biggest factor was pitching. After a fourth-inning single by Vidal Bruján, Kansas City pitchers (Lyles, Carlos Hernández and Nick Wittgren) retired the final 17 Rays batters, who entered the game ranked second in MLB in runs per game (5.62) and hits (708). And Kansas City did it after Tampa Bay put on an offensive clinic with 17 hits in its 11-3 win over the Royals on Friday night.

“We got a really efficient pitch count [from Lyles] and the bullpen was lights-out,’’ Royals manager Matt Quatraro said. “You feel really good for Jordan. Somebody like him who has been in this game a long time, he has a lot of pride in what he does. He has handled himself very well during this [winless drought].’’

When the Rays went up 4-0 on Lyles after two innings, Quatraro said the Royals’ three-run third inning, kick-started by Waters’ solo homer, was a needed response. It allowed the Royals, who have an MLB-leading 28 blown leads this season, to set up a comeback victory.

“Getting down [four runs] didn’t look great, but our guys stayed aggressive, looking to hit the first pitch, and they made it happen,’’ Quatraro said.

“Anytime a team goes up four [runs] and if you don’t answer, it’s kind of tough,’’ Waters said. “But we bounced back and put up some runs. You’re showing the other team that there’s still life. By the end of the game, we really opened it up.’’

In the fourth, with Olivares and Waters aboard with two outs, Fermin changed the game with a three-run blast on Chirinos’ first offering. Fermin added a pair of singles and finished 3-for-3.

“That was my plan [to jump the first pitch],’’ Fermin said. “When I hit the ball, I knew it was gone.’’

The Royals (22-55) can capture the series against the Rays (53-27) with a victory on Sunday. The Rays (33-10 at the Trop) haven’t dropped consecutive home games since April 25-26 against the Astros.

“You hope it’s a confidence-builder and a momentum-builder, but I’m not a huge believer in that,’’ Quatraro said. “Tomorrow is the day, right? When we show up tomorrow, the Rays don’t care what happened today. It’s a fresh start.

“It would be great to get out of here, possibly winning three games here and finishing a good road trip. Any win is a good win. Any time you can pile things together and string them together, that’s what we’re looking to do.’’

Waters said the performance against the Rays already has provided confidence.

“In terms of the Royals, everybody wants to focus on what we’re not doing,’’ Waters said. “But I think this is going to show what we’re capable of doing. As long as we stay on track and continue to play as a team, I think good things are on the way.’’