KANSAS CITY -- After the Royals' scoreless streak reached an historic level Monday night, first baseman Eric Hosmer lamented that the only streak that mattered was the team's five-game losing skid.
On Tuesday night, Whit Merrifield first took care of the scoreless streak with a home run, and later, Hosmer helped take care of the losing streak with a three-run homer, as the Royals got a much-needed 6-2 win over the Rays at Kauffman Stadium.
"Every win is big this time of year," Hosmer said. "It's one we had to have."
Kansas City is now a half-game ahead of Tampa Bay in the American League Wild Card standings. The Royals are three games back of the Twins, who hold the second spot, while the Rays are 3 1/2 behind.
"It's been a rough few games, but people don't seem to realize we're right in the middle of this thing," Merrifield said. "We're three games out of the Wild Card. We believe in ourselves."
The Royals' franchise-record scoreless streak ended at 45 innings when Merrifield blasted a homer into the left-field seats with two outs in the third inning. It was the longest scoreless drought since mounds were lowered in 1969, but short of the all-time mark of 48 set by the 1968 Cubs and the 1906 A's.
"First of all, the streak, the whole thing is pretty mind-blowing," Rays starter Alex Cobb said. "That's a team that has a really good offensive squad over there. ... You're not going to get a team like that to slump that many games in a row. Honestly, the pitch to Whit was a good one. If I could throw it again and know that it was going to end up in that location, I would. He put an unbelievable swing on it."
Royals rookie right-hander Jake Junis didn't allow a hit until the fifth, when Corey Dickerson rolled a soft grounder through the right side for a one-out single. Junis allowed one run on three hits over 5 2/3 innings, walking none and striking out a career-high eight -- the latter of which was his favorite part of the outing.
"Definitely," Junis said. "I like strikeouts."
Cobb threw six strong innings in his second start since coming off the disabled list (turf toe). The right-hander gave up three runs on seven hits, striking out six and walking none.
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MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Big escape: Junis got into some trouble in the sixth, when Kevin Kiermaier singled with one out and went to third with two outs on Evan Longoria's single. Left-hander Scott Alexander relieved Junis, but was greeted with an RBI single by Logan Morrison. However, after a walk loaded the bases, Alexander preserved a 2-1 lead by getting Dickerson to bounce out to second.
"We needed that game really bad," Junis said. "Scotty did the job. We needed that win."
The big blast: The game was still in doubt in the bottom of the seventh with the Royals up, 3-2. Alcides Escobar singled to open the inning, and with one out, Lorenzo Cain walked. After Melky Cabrera struck out, left-hander Dan Jennings came in for the lefty-lefty matchup with Hosmer. But Hosmer jumped on a four-seam fastball and rifled it into the left-center-field seats for his 22nd homer. It had an exit velocity of 108 mph, per Statcast™.
"That was the homer that really capped it for us," Royals manager Ned Yost said.
"I went with my strength, and something I have confidence in, and I just didn't make a pitch," Jennings said. "This game really boils down to a few pitches each game. There's one or two hundred pitches thrown by a team in a game. And each game boils down to a handful. And that was a big one."
"I don't think the performances we need right now are to keep the team in the ballgame. As a staff, we need to do all we can to win the ballgame." -- Cobb, after receiving a compliment about keeping the team in the game
UPON FURTHER REVIEW
The Royals challenged a call in the first after Cain hit a grounder to Rays first baseman Morrison, who tossed to Cobb covering the bag ahead of Cain. But replays showed Cain got his foot on the bag before Cobb caught the throw, and the call was overturned.
A similar call occurred in the fifth, again involving Cain, who grounded to third and was called out on a close play at first. The Royals challenged, and that call was overturned as well.
The Royals won another bizarre challenge in the sixth. With one out and the Rays' Kiermaier on first, Lucas Duda swung at a 3-2 slider in the dirt. Kiermaier advanced to second on the play, but the Royals challenged that the ball hit Duda in the left heel, thus making the ball dead. The Royals won the challenge, and Kiermaier had to return to first while the strikeout stood.
Rays:Jake Odorizzi (6-7, 4.82 ERA) gets the nod in Wednesday's series finale against the Royals in an 8:15 p.m. ET contest at Kauffman Stadium. Odorizzi has pitched at Kauffman Stadium once as a visitor, on April 9, 2014, allowing seven runs on 10 hits in five innings to take the loss. He was acquired from the Royals in a seven-player trade in 2012 involving right-hander James Shields and outfielder William Myers.
Royals: Left-hander Jason Vargas (14-8, 3.72) takes the mound for the Royals in the series finale against the Rays on Wednesday at 7:15 p.m. CT. Vargas gave up four runs on six hits over five innings in a 4-0 loss to the Indians on Friday.
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