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Rays again rally, come up short against Royals

Misplays and missed plays factor heavily as Tampa Bay again falls behind early, rallies to tie and then loses late.
 
A ball hit by the Kansas City Royals' Michael A. Taylor drops in front of the glove of Rays leftfielder Randy Arozarena for a single in the sixth inning Sunday in Kansas City, Mo.
A ball hit by the Kansas City Royals' Michael A. Taylor drops in front of the glove of Rays leftfielder Randy Arozarena for a single in the sixth inning Sunday in Kansas City, Mo. [ ED ZURGA | AP ]
Published July 24, 2022|Updated July 24, 2022

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Sunday’s game played out similarly to Saturday’s for the Rays.

Similarly badly.

They got down early to the last-place Royals. They came around enough offensively to eventually get even. And they lost the game late, this time 4-2.

There was a bit of a twist, as most of the damage was somewhat self-inflicted.

“Just kind of a frustrating game,” manager Kevin Cash said. “We didn’t hit, we didn’t defend as well as we could.”

As a result, they didn’t win as much as they should have, dropping two of three to a Royals team that entered the weekend with the second-fewest victories in the American League. They dropped to 52-43 and out of the top wild-card spot, now trailing the Blue Jays.

When the Rays were swept by the similarly struggling Reds earlier this month, several players said they felt the team had a tendency to play up or down to the level of competition — which was kind of borne out as they then went 6-1 against the contending Red Sox and Orioles.

After a crisp win in Friday’s post-All-Star break opener, that seemed to be the case again Saturday and Sunday against the Royals.

“I don’t know why when we play teams like this, stuff like that happens,” leading hitter Yandy Diaz said via team interpreter Manny Navarro. “But that’s just baseball, I guess.”

A ball hit by the Kansas City Royals' Nicky Lopez gets past Rays shortstop Taylor Walls for a single in the seventh inning.
A ball hit by the Kansas City Royals' Nicky Lopez gets past Rays shortstop Taylor Walls for a single in the seventh inning. [ ED ZURGA | AP ]

Cash wasn’t into the explanations.

“I expect to win every series, simple as that,” he said. “The Royals played well. We’re a good team. We should find ways to win series.”

Not the way they played Sunday.

The Rays were held to five hits by an undistinguished pitching staff, though one was a solo homer by Diaz, his first since May 14. They didn’t do much with the few chances they had, getting two runners on to start the sixth (scoring one to make it 2-2) and the seventh (none, thanks in part to a great play by third baseman Emmanuel Rivera).

But, despite a valiant effort by Jeffrey Springs in his first start since July 5, it was what the Rays gave up that was more troubling, as misplays and missed plays factored into the first three Royals runs.

In the first inning, leadoff man Whit Merrifield’s hard shot went off shortstop Taylor Walls’ glove for a double, and he scored two batters later. In the second, leadoff man Michael A. Taylor reached when catcher Christian Bethancourt couldn’t hang on to strike three, and he also came around to score.

Most glaring was Walls’ play in the seventh, after the Rays battled back to make it 2-2.

Reliever Brooks Raley had one runner on (a Merrifield single) and two outs when Nicky Lopez grounded a ball just to the right of second.

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Walls came across the bag and in front of second baseman Yu Chang to try to make the play, but the ball scooted under Walls’ glove, and when Chang did grab it his throw to first was late. Hunter Dozier then rapped a single to right to put the Royals ahead to stay.

“We should have had an out leading up to that Dozier at-bat,” Cash said. “We didn’t, and they found a way to capitalize on our opportunities that we didn’t make plays on.”

Cash said “ideally” Walls should have let Chang field the ball and covered second so they could get the easy force out.

“That’s part of ‘Wallsy,’ what makes him so special is that he can cover so much ground,” Cash said. “But right there, if there’s nobody on first base, maybe you think to cut across and try to make the play with his momentum. But with there being a guy on first, ideally, let Chang make that play and flip it to him.”

Walls, who also saved a run with a key grab in the third, said he felt both he and Chang could have made the play on the ball in the seventh. Once he decided to go for it, he got caught with an in-between hop. He also felt he should have had Merrifield’s ball in the first.

“That’s two runs,” Walls said. “Had I had those plays again, I think I make both of them.”

It was that kind of day.

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