ST. PETERSBURG — For three weeks, life was good.
Birds were singing, curveballs were bending and the Rays were winning a stinkload of games. The season had barely begun and already Tampa Bay had a 5½-game lead in the American League East on April 18.
Those are now, officially, the good ol’ days.
During the past week the Rays have lost five games, outfielder Austin Meadows went on the injured list with a sprained thumb, late-inning relievers Diego Castillo and Jose Alvarado gave up runs in four of their past five appearances, and infielder Joey Wendle fractured his right wrist.
And for an exclamation point, the Rays got smoked 10-2 Wednesday by the Royals on their way out of town in front of an announced crowd of 9,502 at the Trop.
“We just need to be humbled a little bit because we can’t go out there and think we’re going to win each and every game just because we have a lot of talent,’’ said centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier. “No matter who you’re playing in the big leagues, there’s a lot of talent on the other side as well.’’
The season is still in its infancy, and the Rays are still a long way from panic. Tampa Bay played so ridiculously well during the first three weeks, the team could have a dispiriting 4-5 homestand and still manage to leave town with the best record in the majors.
But Wednesday’s dud was an unsubtle reminder that there are a lot of calendar pages between now and the playoffs.
“It’s a long season, and you’re going to have some ups and downs,’’ manager Kevin Cash said. “It’s a little tougher today because we just lost another guy. That stinks, but we’ll continue to try to find ways to win games and overcome it.’’
At least for one inning Wednesday, it seemed like the Rays had reclaimed some of their mojo after being swept by the Red Sox in a weekend series. Tampa Bay had won its first two games against Kansas City, and ace Blake Snell was back on the mound after missing a start with a fractured toe.
Snell looked impressive in the first inning, throwing almost exclusively 95-96 mph fastballs while retiring the Royals on 11 pitches. In the bottom of the inning, Wendle hit a two-out double to drive in a run, and the Rays looked to be on their way to a sweep of their own.
It’s not hyperbole to say nothing went right for the next eight innings.
Snell seemed to go through stretches where he was fixated on offspeed pitches. He ended up surrendering three runs, including two earned, in the next three-plus innings. He faced 15 hitters in the game, allowing seven to reach on walks or hits.
“Yeah, just a frustrating one. To have a lead and give up a run and then not shut it down as well as I should have is frustrating,’’ Snell said. “Maybe it was just me thinking too much, trying to do too much. It’s something I’ll have to go watch (on video) to see what I was really doing.’’
The defense was shaky, the offense was unimpressive and reliever Ryan Yarbrough ended any hope of a comeback with the worst performance of his big-league career.
And none of that was the day’s worst news.
Wendle, who had just come off the injured list Sunday after missing almost three weeks with a hamstring injury, was hit on the right wrist by a pitch from Kansas City reliever Jake Diekman. Wendle remained in the game for the rest of the sixth inning but did not come back out to play defense.
X-rays at Tropicana Field revealed a fractured bone.
The Rays now have a day off to regroup before beginning a three-game series in Boston on Friday. Wednesday’s debacle won’t be the end of the world as long as it’s not the beginning of a slide.
“Facing a little bit of adversity early doesn’t necessarily hurt us,’’ Kiermaier said, “because it’s going to happen during the season.’’
Contact John Romano at [email protected]. Follow at @romano_tbtimes.