That remarkable three-runs-and-under streak by the Royals’ pitching staff ended Saturday at 13 games in a 5-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field.
The end wasn’t cloaked in mystery, either.
Jeremy Guthrie suffered a long-ball relapse by surrendering three home runs in his seven innings. The streak-breaker was a one-out drive in the fifth inning by Matt Joyce, which gave the Rays a 4-2 lead.
“They have a phenomenal pitching staff,” Joyce said. “Obviously, they have one of our guys kind of leading the charge in (James) Shields, and he seems to make everyone around him better.
“Guthrie is another great pitcher. We just seemed to have at-bats and come up with some big hits.”
Joyce’s blast came after a sobering moment earlier in the inning when Tampa Bay starter Alex Cobb was stretchered from the field after being struck in the right ear by an Eric Hosmer line drive.
Hosmer was leading off the inning when he lined a 2-1 fastball back through the box that struck Cobb, who immediately collapsed. The ball ricocheted to catcher Jose Lobaton, who threw Hosmer out at first.
“It was one of those things that, right off the bat, the first thing I saw (was Cobb go down),” Hosmer said. “It was scary, man. I don’t like being a part of that. I know all of the guys in here and over there are praying for him.”
The trainers from both squads rushed from the dugout before the play was even completed as Cobb lay facedown in front of the mound.
Medical personnel immobilized Cobb, who was then taken from the field and transported to nearby Bayfront Medical Center for further examination.
Rays officials say Cobb remained conscious throughout the ordeal. All initial reports are encouraging: A mild concussion and a cut on the right ear. All tests came back normal.
Alex Torres, 2-0, replaced Cobb and retired five straight batters while the Rays expanded their lead on Joyce’s homer and another solo blast by Evan Longoria in the sixth inning.
Guthrie, 7-4, also gave up a two-run blast in the third inning to Luke Scott after the Royals scored twice in the second against Cobb for a 2-1 lead.
Success for Guthrie is increasingly easy to calculate: He has allowed 11 homers in his four losses but just five in his seven victories — and three of those five came in one game.
“Yeah, I agree,” he said. “They were not executed pitches (today).”
The 13-game run of holding opponents to three runs or fewer began June 1 with a 4-1 victory at Texas. It is the longest streak in Royals history, and the longest by an American League club since Toronto went 15 games in 1991.
“We’ll see if we can’t start another one (Sunday),” manager Ned Yost said.
Torres departed after the sixth inning. Jake McGee worked a scoreless seventh before ex-Royal Joel Peralta yielded a leadoff homer to Salvy Perez in the eighth.
Peralta made it through the rest of the inning with no damage, and Fernando Rodney worked around a two-on jam in the ninth for his 14th save in 19 chances.
The loss prevented the Royals, 32-34, from climbing back to .500 but was only their second defeat in their last 11 games. The four-game series concludes Sunday afternoon at Tropicana Field.
Not much of it seemed to matter after Cobb’s injury.
“It deflated the entire stadium,” said second baseman Elliot Johnson, a former teammate. “It deflated the benches. There wasn’t a lot of talk going on. What is there to say? Things get real `real’ real quick.”
Tampa Bay jumped Guthrie for a run in the first inning when the Royals’ defense hiccuped after Ben Zobrist’s one-out single Hosmer whiffed on a pick-off throw for an error that permitted Zobrist to reach second.
Scott followed with a grounder to Johnson, who was positioned in short right field. That should be been the second out, but Johnson bounced the throw — and Scott got an infield single.
That meant Longoria’s drive to deep right, instead of being the third out, was a sacrifice fly. The Rays led 1-0.
The Royals answered immediately after loading the bases with one out in the second inning. Alcides Escobar walked after singles by Mike Moustakas and Johnson.
Alex Gordon worked back from a 1-2 hole for a run-scoring walk. Hosmer followed with a sacrifice fly to center for a 2-1 lead.
Guthrie worked a brisk second inning and got two quick outs in the third before Zobrist grounded a single up the middle. Scott then sent a 2-2 fastball into the right-field seats. The Rays led again at 3-2.
Tampa Bay nearly broke the Royals’ streak in the fourth when Desmond Jennings, after a one-out single, tried to score on Lobaton’s two-out drive into the right-center gap.
Right fielder David Lough cut the ball off and made a strong throw to shortstop Alcides Escobar, who nailed Jennings at the plate.
Perez had the ball in sufficient time that Jennings, rather than opt for a collision, simply stopped and accepted the tag.
Guthrie simply couldn’t keep the ball in the park against Joyce in the fifth and Longoria it the sixth.
“His pitches weren’t horrible,” Yost said. “They were all pitches that were down, but they were catching too much of the plate.”
And too much of the bat.