This comeback was a lot tougher — and a lot more tense — than Tuesday’s victory.
The Royals fell into a five-run hole Wednesday night on two occasions before rallying and then holding on for a 9-8 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays at Kauffman Stadium.
Jeff Francoeur’s two-run single capped a five-run sixth inning and provided the eventual winning run. It came on a two-out hopper up the middle on an 0-2 pitch from former Royal Kyle Farnsworth.
“You need those,” Francoeur said. “This was one of the weirdest games I’ve ever played in.
“I started with no undershirt on, and by the ninth inning I wanted to get in the hot tub. It had to drop 30 degrees during that game.”
It was all good in the end, though.
“That’s nice to get that one,” said second baseman Elliot Johnson, who started the comeback with a homer in the third inning. “The lineup is good, man.
“When we start getting on it, we smell blood, it seems like.”
A bobbled grounder by Rays shortstop Yunel Escobar fueled the Royals’ decisive sixth inning. It was originally scored an error but later changed to an infield single for Eric Hosmer.
“I don’t know where he had a play,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “Hosmer doesn’t run that badly. I don’t know that he had a play at first base. That was just a no-man’s land play.”
Either way, the five-run outburst provided the Royals with a 9-6 lead after they previously trailed 5-0 and 6-1.
But Tampa Bay struck back with two runs in the seventh against Tim Collins before Aaron Crow and Greg Holland nursed the one-run lead through the plunging temperatures and first drops of rain.
Bruce Chen, 2-0, got the victory by working two scoreless innings after replacing an ineffective Luis Mendoza. Holland collected his seventh save in eight chances. Jake McGee, 0-2, was the loser.
“If we get a lead late in the game,” third baseman Mike Moustakas said, “it’s tough to beat our bullpen.
“Bruce won the game tonight. He came in and dominated. Then Crow and Holly, they’re always there.”
The victory boosted the Royals to 15-10 and back into first place in the American League Central. They lead second-place Detroit, 15-11, by one-half game.
The Royals rallied for an 8-2 victory in Tuesday’s series opener when James Shields shut down his former club after allowing two runs in the first inning.
“That’s what we’re capable of, man,” Moustakas said. “We were down 5-0 and 6-1, and like Juego (Shields) said (Tuesday): We’re resilient. We don’t ever give in. We can score runs.”
Mendoza wasn’t sharp in his first start since April 12. He gave up three homers, including two in the first inning, while yielding six runs overall in four innings.
Homers by Matt Joyce, Ben Zobrist and Luke Scott pushed the Royals into a 6-1 hole by the fourth inning. Chen replaced Mendoza to start the fifth and worked two scoreless innings — and everything turned around.
“When I came into the game,” Chen said, “they said hold it there and we have a good chance.
“We’re down (6-1), but then we score to make it 6-4 and suddenly everybody started believing we had a good chance of coming back.”
The Royals closed within 6-4 by the end of the fifth against Rays starter Jeremy Hellickson, who departed after the inning. Hellickson gave up nine hits in addition to four runs.
McGee replaced Hellickson to start the sixth, and the Royals really went to work: Salvy Perez led off with a single before one-out singles by Alex Gordon and Alcides Escobar loaded the bases.
Billy Butler hit a liner off McGee’s glove that resulted in an out at first, but Perez scored, and the other runners moved up. The Royals pulled even when Yunel Escobar booted Hosmer’s grounder.
Lorenzo Cain then flicked a blooper into short left-center field for an RBI single and a 7-6 lead. A walk to Moustakas loaded the bases and brought Farnsworth in to face Francoeur.
Farnsworth jumped ahead 0-2 before Francoeur sent a hopper into center for a two-run single that made it 9-6.
“I was looking for his cutter,” Francoeur said, “and I got it on the first pitch.
“The second one, he threw a good pitch. He humped up to 94 (mph) inside. After that, I was just looking for something to drive to right field.
“I saw a good pitch and put a good swing on it.”
Collins inherited that three-run lead to start the seventh but ran into one-out trouble. Zobrist singled and went to third on Evan Longoria’s double to right.
James Loney’s single off Collins’ glove made it 9-7 and put runners at first and second. Yunel Escobar’s grounder to first resulted in a force at second before Scott lined an RBI single to left.
Crow replaced Collins and stranded the tying and go-ahead runs by retiring Jose Lobaton on a grounder to second. Crow also worked a one-two-three eighth inning.
“I feel we made Hellickson work from the first inning on,” Butler said.
“But after falling down 5-0 and 6-1, it looked like we were behind the eight-ball. We just stayed within ourselves and kept pecking away.”