If the Rays had known, entering the week, that they’d take five of six games in their road trip, they probably would’ve been satisfied with that. But the way the trip ended on Wednesday, in a 9-8 walk-off loss to the Royals, will undoubtedly leave Tampa Bay wanting more as it heads home.
The Rays were just a few innings shy of securing their second multi-series road trip sweep in franchise history and rising to the best road record in the American League. Instead, they saw two of their best relievers forfeit a three-run lead in the seventh inning, before closer Diego Castillo yielded a game-winning single to Salvador Perez in the ninth.
“You’ve got to be pleased any time you win five out of six,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “That’s a good feeling. We were really close to sweeping an entire road trip; we just came up a little bit short. But the guys, they’ve played really, really well. We’ve competed great. We just came up short. Kansas City wouldn’t go away today and they ended up winning.”
The Rays took the lead right away with a four-run first, and they led 6-3 at the end of their half of the seventh. Like Cash said, though, the Royals didn’t go away.
Facing Rays reliever Jeffrey Springs, who hadn’t allowed a walk this season, the Royals produced an infield hit and a walk to open the seventh. Then came pinch-hitter Hanser Alberto, who drove a full-count sinker to the gap in right for a two-run triple. Two batters later, with ground-ball specialist Ryan Thompson in the game, Carlos Santana smoked an elevated sinker for a go-ahead home run.
Tampa Bay responded with a run in each of the next two innings to reclaim the edge.
Joey Wendle, the Rays’ batting leader (.365), poked his second double of the night into the left-field corner to score Manuel Margot from first in the top of the ninth.
The Royals had one more salvo, though, in the form of Salvador Perez. Castillo intentionally walked Santana to get to Perez, and promptly threw a wild pitch to move the winning run to third base. From there, Perez ripped a middle-middle slider down the left-field line for his second walk-off hit of the week.
The Rays’ bullpen has been far from its typically stout self this year, ranking 25th in Majors in ERA (4.92) and allowing more runs from the seventh inning onward (45) than any team. But the roster of relievers on the injured list is just as long and crowded as the bullpen itself, and that means nights like Wednesday are bound to happen sometimes.
“We know we’re nicked up in the bullpen,” Cash said. “We’re going to rely on these guys, and they’ve been good for us. They can’t go out there and be perfect every night. And we weren’t tonight.”
The bright side on Wednesday -- and on the road trip as a whole -- has been the offense. Tampa Bay’s batters woke up during this six-game stretch, collecting 44 runs, 58 hits and 25 walks.
They also averaged 7.33 runs per game, well ahead of the 3.85 runs per game they scored while going 5-8 over their first 13 games.
“It’s encouraging to see our team putting up runs like we did this series,” said Wendle, who’s enjoying a nine-game hit streak. “It’s nice to get the offense clicking, especially in cold weather like this; it wasn’t necessarily good hitting weather.”
Perhaps “hitting weather” is in the eye of the bat holder, as the Rays managed just fine in the snow, wind and sub-40 temperatures they’ve seen in recent days. No such excuses will exist at climate-controlled Tropicana Field, where they’re headed after an off-day now that a successful road trip is complete.
“To win five out of six on a trip, that’s a great road trip,” Wendle said. “Unfortunately we have a little bit of a sour taste in our mouth, letting that one get away from us, but we’re gonna look back and say that was a good road trip overall for the team.”