The Royals pitching staff gave up runs in bunches to both start and end the evening, including three runs in the final two innings to make a ninth-inning rally a far-fetched prospect.
The rally didn’t come as the Royals fell 8-5 to the Tampa Bay Rays in the first game of a four-game set in front of an announced 11,744 plus another 411 dogs on “Bark in the Park” at Kauffman Stadium on Monday night. The loss dropped the Royals (9-20) to 1-3 on the current homestand. The teams will continue their four-game series on Tuesday.
Adalberto Mondesi went 2-for-4 with a triple and two RBIs, and Jorge Soler homered to lead the offensive efforts.
The Royals trailed by as many as four runs. Royals starting pitcher Brad Keller returned from his five-game suspension for his role in igniting a bench-clearing altercation in Chicago. Keller, who made his previous start against the Rays, gave up four runs in the first two innings.
“Definitely didn’t feel my best out there,” Keller said. “Didn’t have my best stuff. I just tried to battle the best I could and keep us in the game. I was just yanking all my pitches.”
The first run came after Keller walked Ji-Man Choi, allowed him to advance to third base on a wild pitch and then a balk before Yandy Diaz’s RBI single with two outs and two strikes drove in the game’s first run.
The Rays added three more runs in the second thanks to three hits, including an RBI double by Michael Perez and a two-run triple by Tommy Pham.
The Royals pulled within a run, 4-3, thanks to a three-run third inning sparked by an error on a fly ball hit by Maldonado. After Maldonado reached and Whit Merrifield walked, Mondesi hit a two-run triple into the right field corner, his fifth triple of the season. Alex Gordon followed with a sacrifice fly to center field to bring in Mondesi with the third run.
“We were down four, a couple guys on, Mondie with the triple and then Gordie with a great piece of hitting,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “They do things a little differently over there. They played the infield in with a two-run lead, but Gordie got a pitch elevated in the zone and drove it to the outfield to make it 4-3 at that time. You’re thinking we’re in good shape right here, just keep battling.”
The Rays bumped that lead back up to two runs, 5-3, with a Diaz RBI single up the middle in the fifth inning. Keller came out after five innings having allowed five runs on six hits and three walks. He also hit a batter, uncorked a wild pitch and just 50 of his 92 pitches were strikes.
Royals reliever Brad Boxberger came on and shut down the Rays for two innings. The right-hander didn’t allow a hit and struck out two as he retired six consecutive batters. Monday’s outing came on the heels of him having struck out three in a scoreless inning last week against the Rays in St. Petersburg.
A one-time All-Star closer, Boxberger had struggled throughout the first month of the season. An off-season signing for the Royals, he entered the night with an 8.71 ERA in 11 appearances this season.
Soler’s seventh home run of the season in the bottom of the seventh, a towering blast over the left-center field fountains that made it a one-run game, 5-4.
However, the Rays answered with a run against Royals reliever Scott Barlow in the eighth to restore the two-run advantage, 6-4. Rays designated hitter Nate Lowe doubled — his first hit in the majors — and scored on a Kevin Kiermaier RBI single after Barlow had been replaced by left-hander Jake Diekman.
“Anywhere but middle-middle would’ve been perfect,” Diekman said of the slider Kiermaier hit. “... For me, when he swung I didn’t think he made good contact on it. It happens.”
The Rays tacked on two more runs in the top half of the ninth against Royals closer Wily Peralta.
Kelvin Gutierrez’s chopper up the middle with two outs in the bottom of the ninth drove in Hunter Dozier for the game’s final run.