The Rays had a lot they could have been happy about Wednesday.
A win would complete a franchise-first perfect six-game road trip, with sweeps in New York and Kansas City, and send them into their only off-day in a rugged month in a good mood.
They looked to be headed that way a couple of times, scoring four in the first, taking a three-run lead into the seventh, rallying to tie in the eighth, then going ahead again in the top of the ninth.
But they ended up with a frustrating loss, as the Royals scored twice in the bottom of the ninth for a 9-8 win.
“To win five out of six on the trip, that’s a great road trip,’' Rays infielder Joey Wendle said. “Unfortunately we have a little bit of a sour taste in our mouth, let that one get away from us.’'
The end was painful, if only because how close the 10-9 Rays, who had won five straight, came to preventing it.
The Royals’ Michael A. Taylor led off with a single off Diego Castillo. Pinch-runner Jarrod Dyson, one of the game’s faster runners, stole second and moved to third on a sac bunt.
With No. 9 hitter Nicky Lopez up, the Rays figured a squeeze bunt might be coming. Pitching coach Kyle Snyder went to the mound to make sure they all were aware, telling Wendle to try to keep Dyson close to third.
To no one in the Rays’ dugout surprise — “Not at all,’' manager Kevin Cash said — Lopez indeed bunted, and well-placed, right in front of the mound. Castillo scooped it with his glove and flipped it to catcher Mike Zunino, but Dyson slid headfirst to tie it.
“We were all ready for it,’' Wendle said. “Just a perfect bunt. Fast runner on third. I don’t know that that particular play there’s any way to defend it.’'
Castillo had much the same take. “That’s exactly what it was,’' he said via team interpreter Manny Navarro. “It was a perfect bunt. It was well played, well executed.’'
Castillo got Whit Merrifield to ground out, with Lopez moving to second. The Rays intentionally walked Carlos Santana, who homered in the Royals’ four-run seventh, and both runners moved up on a wild pitch.
That brought up catcher Salvador Perez, who started the series Monday taking batting practice in a Tom Brady Bucs jersey because he lost a Super Bowl bet to Rays outfielder Brett Phillips. He ended it with the last laugh.
Perez slashed a 2-1 Castillo slider between a diving Wendle and the third-base line to score the winning run.
“Just past me,’' Wendle said. “Just beat me. I had a decent jump on it, decent beat on it. Just shot down that line. He hit it pretty hard.’'
Castillo said he felt confident until the end, that he could get Perez to ground out. Cash, though, noted that Castillo wasn’t his usual, dominant self.
“I don’t think he was as sharp as what we’ve grown accustomed to seeing,’' Cash said. “Just a couple of pulled pitches. Just didn’t quite have his command. (He) battled just like we would anticipate.’'
After posting a season-high 14 runs and 17 hits Tuesday, the Rays stayed hot on another cold Kansas City, Mo., night (first-pitch temperature 46 degrees), scoring four runs in the first.
An Austin Meadows walk got them started, then Wendle doubled in one run and Brandon Lowe — going deep for a second straight night — hit a two-run homer. A two-out double by catcher Francisco Mejia scored Yandy Diaz to make it 4-0.
The Royals cut the margin to 4-3 by the fourth, in large part due to Jorge Soler, who has had his way with Rays starter Michael Wacha. In the second, Soler led off with a single, then Hunter Dozier homered. In the fourth, Soler homered, making him 8-for-15 with four home runs off Wacha..
The Rays rebuilt the lead to 6-3, with Meadows scoring on a Wendle sac fly in the fifth, then doubling in Phillips in the seventh.
But the Rays bullpen, which has weathered a string of injuries, faltered in the seventh, as Jeffrey Springs and Ryan Thompson teamed to allow four runs.
“We’ve talked about it,’' Cash said. “We know we’re nicked up in the bullpen. 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 Rays tied it in the eighth, when Kevin Kiermaier singled, went to third on a steal attempt and a throwing error by Perez, and scored on a pinch-hit double by Randy Arozarena. They went ahead in the ninth when Meadows led off with a single and Wendle, who has been their most-productive player thus far, doubled in pinch-runner Manuel Margot.
But the Royals answered. Manager Mike Matheny called it their most exciting win of the season, saying “I love this team.’'
Perez said it was a good way to make up for his earlier mistakes, the throwing error in the eighth and an odd play in the sixth when he was tagged out between first and second after hitting a ball he thought had gone out and thus didn’t run hard. He also said it was among the most special of his six career walkoff hits, including one earlier on this homestand.
“I made too many mistakes tonight, good thing we won,’' he said.
Cash said it was a tough one to see get away.
“Give the Royals credit. (Tuesday) night they kept coming. Tonight they kept coming. We just couldn’t quite hold them down,’' he said. “But we just put together a really nice road trip. We’ve got to be pleased with that heading into an off-day coming back home.’'
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