ST. PETERSBURG — Royals right-hander Brian Bannister did Friday night what very few have done this season: stifle the Rays' red-hot bats.
Then his teammates pulled off another rare feat: handing closer Rafael Soriano a sour outing.
Despite another strong start by Jeff Niemann, the Rays were held to just four hits in a 3-2 loss to Kansas City in front of 25,195 at Tropicana Field, snapping their five-game winning streak.
"It was a win here in the house of horrors," quipped Royals manager Trey Hillman.
But with all the Rays talk about getting off to a great start, they did cap their third-best month in club history at 17-6 — and the majors' best April since the 2003 Yankees (21-6). While their bats were quiet Friday, the Rays displayed some of the same traits that brought them the majors' best record: sharp starting pitching, sizzling defense and a fight-until-the-last-out approach.
"We just lost the game," manager Joe Maddon said. "If we give that kind of effort on a nightly basis, I'd be very happy. We played great defense. We grinded out at-bats. If we approach each game like that on a consistent basis, I'd take it, and it will result in many wins."
The game was lost in the ninth, which began with the score 1-1. Lefty Randy Choate, who had gotten two big outs in the top of the eighth, leaped to field a chopper by Scott Podsednik but bobbled it as he rushed to get it out of his glove, resulting in an error.
"Ninety-nine times out of 100, I make that play," Choate said.
In came Soriano, who is 5-for-5 in save situations. But he gave up three hits and allowed two runs to score (one charged to him) and hit a batter. "To me, just treat it as one bad game," Soriano said. "Just keep going tomorrow. You can't win every day."
Royals closer Joakim Soria had a rough ninth as well, giving up a single and a walk before Evan Longoria came oh-so-close to his second homer of the game. But Podsednik leaped to make the catch at the leftfield wall.
"I put my hands up and quickly put them back down," Rays first baseman Carlos Peña said. "I thought off the bat that was gone."
Said Podsednik: "I thought it could have gone either way off the bat. Luckily, it found my glove."
The Rays, who had scored 71 runs over the previous eight games, were shut down by Bannister, who showed great command, kept the ball down and pitched efficiently inside.
"Seriously, I can't imagine a guy doing a better job than Brian Bannister of cooling bats off," Hillman said.
And Maddon couldn't imagine the Rays playing better defense. Peña made a diving grab on a grounder down the first-base line on the first batter of the game and made a spectacular catch in the fourth, flipping over the dugout rail before getting saved by his teammates. Leftfielder Carl Crawford added a sliding catch in the fifth, and Longoria made a great charging play at third on a David DeJesus' slow grounder in the eighth.
The defense "has been great," said Niemann, who gave up one run in 7⅓ innings. "It's been kind of a continuing theme. It's helped out us as pitchers. They're taking an inning off the game by playing the way they are."
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected]