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Breaks go Rays' way in win over Royals (w/ video)

Tampa Bay Rays relief pitcher Brad Boxberger (26) throwing in the ninth inning of the game between the Kansas City Royals and the Tampa Bay Rays in Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Sunday, August 30, 2015. The Tampa Bay Rays beat the Kansas City Royals 3-2.
Tampa Bay Rays relief pitcher Brad Boxberger (26) throwing in the ninth inning of the game between the Kansas City Royals and the Tampa Bay Rays in Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Sunday, August 30, 2015. The Tampa Bay Rays beat the Kansas City Royals 3-2.
Published Aug. 31, 2015

ST. PETERSBURG — Which side of the white line the ball bounced on didn't, and still doesn't, actually matter because umpire Alan Porter had already ruled it fair.

Rays first baseman James Loney deftly made a smooth play, throwing home to prevent old mate Ben Zobrist from scoring the tying run for his new Royals team in the eighth inning Sunday.

After making the tag and taking an inadvertent spike, Rays catcher Rene Rivera scrambled to his feet, looking to see how far down the first-base line Kendrys Morales was for a chance to throw him out.

Instead, Morales was standing right there beside the batter's box, in some combination of frustration and disbelief, as Rivera tagged him to complete the odd inning-ending — and game-saving — double play.

"I was surprised a little bit," Rivera said. "I was like, 'Whoa. Okay. Thank you.' "

For all that has gone wrong for the Rays recently — and there has been plenty, illustrated by several missteps earlier in the game — they caught a rare big break Sunday in hanging on for a 3-2 win they had to have.

"It finally felt like a little bit of luck was on our side," centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier said. "We definitely needed that."

They definitely did. Having lost 10 of their previous 15 in assorted ignominious ways, and in danger of being season-swept by the Royals, they absolutely, positively did.

Especially since tonight they open a nine-game swing through Baltimore, New York and Detroit that could well-define their playoff hopes — 4½ behind Texas for the second AL wild card, 64-66 overall — by the time they return to the Trop on Sept. 11.

Even if you are convinced that their bullpen is patched together enough with Alex Colome stepping up and Brad Boxberger sorting things out, and that the offense can continue to be just productive enough despite its deficiencies, and that the recent struggles of the rotation aren't lasting (or can be fixed with an infusion of Matt Moore and maybe Blake Snell), and that the defensive lapses are random, the Rays still need something.

And Sunday's win, where they overcame some bad mistakes, where they came back to tie on a Brandon Guyer home run and take the lead on Kiermaier's laser-like shot, where they hung on with four solid innings of relief, and where they made a couple of big plays topped by the fortuitous double play, is the kind that can propel them.

"We needed this win," manager Kevin Cash said. "We need to go play well on this road trip. We try not to get too far ahead of ourselves, but this was a big one.

"We've had some close games, some frustrating losses, no doubt. To be able to bounce back and get a win in a tight ball game continues to speak volumes about this club. We could easily have kind of folded there, and we did not."

Starter Nathan Karns deserves some of the credit. He dodged his usual first-inning problems, then limited the damage in a messy 33-pitch third, exacerbated by fill-in first baseman Daniel Nava making the wrong read in charging a bunt, leaving the Rays unable to get even the out the Royals were giving them and leading to two runs.

But Karns settled down to get them through five, and the revamped bullpen looked right again, as Xavier Cedeno, Colome and Boxberger, who leads the AL with 32 saves, combined to get the final 12 outs.

They got a couple of actual big hits. Joey Butler delivered Guyer with a two-out single in the first. Guyer, quietly productive in platoon duty, smacked a tying homer to open the third as part of his three-hit day. And Kiermaier, taking a less-is-more approach with his swing due to a still sore right thumb, provided the biggest blow, a two-out homer in the sixth that gave them the 3-2 lead.

Which got them to the eighth.

Royals manager Ned Yost said the ball "obviously" was foul — plays like that in front of the bases are not replay reviewable — and thus there was no reason for Morales to run. Morales said much the same, that it was "frustrating" and wrong for a game to be decided that way.

Loney said he didn't know if it was fair or foul, and like the rest of the Rays, he really didn't care given the result.

"When Loney threw him out at home and then (Rivera) tagged him, I was like, 'What? Is this really happening?' " Guyer said. "Just the way you write it up right there, right?"

Contact Marc Topkin at mtopkin@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.