On July 8, when the Royals were playing the Rays, Alex Gordon went down with a serious groin injury. At the time, Kansas City was 49-33 and held a 4.5 game lead in the American League Central. The Twins were hot. Fans hoped for the Royals to simply maintain their lead and get through the eight-week period until Gordon returned. It's safe to say that they did a lot more than that.
As Gordon appears set to return this week, the Royals may have fallen to the Rays on Sunday afternoon, but they've exceeded everyone's expectations in the last two months. The 3-2 loss dropped Kansas City to a measly 30 games over .500, making them 31-16 since Gordon's injury. With rumors of Gordon's possible return for the upcoming Tigers series brewing, Kansas City has played their best baseball of the year without their best player.
Think about that.
Danny Duffy, despite throwing a lot of pitches, got through five innings. He did allow seven hits, but just two runs scored. He also struck out six Rays, the most he has racked up since June 30. Joey Butler blooped an RBI single into right field in the first inning, and in the third, Brandon Guyer punched a line-drive home run over the left-field wall. Despite his fastball being sharp, Duffy was squeezed and frequently fell behind hitters. All things considered, he departed with his team in a tie game.
Sandwiched in between the Rays two runs was Kansas City's two-run third inning. Omar Infante and Drew Butera started things with consecutive singles, and Infante scored on Ben Zobrist's single. In the next at bat, Lorenzo Cain continued the singles parade by lining one down the right field line, putting Kansas City in the lead, 2-1. The Royals had the chance to do much further damage in the inning, but they were unable to capitalize. It only took one batter to haunt them when Guyer homered to open the bottom half of the third.
The game remained knotted at two until the bottom of the sixth inning. Luke Hochevar, in relief of Duffy, retired the first two hitters he faced, but Kevin Kiermaier destroyed a cutter that didn't cut over the right-field wall. As a result, the Rays took a 3-2 lead, and Hochevar was ultimately handed the loss. He is 1-1.
Kansas City's best chance to tie the game was in the top of the eighth inning. A walk by Zobrist and a Hosmer single put runners on the corners with just one out, but Kendrys Morales hit into one of the strangest double plays you'll ever see. He hacked at Alex Colome's first-pitch curveball and chopped it to first base, but because he thought the ball was foul, he didn't run to first base. The Rays completed the 3-2-3 double play to end the Royals threats, leaving thousands of fans confused and frustrated while reviewing what appeared to be a foul ball.
Xavier Cedeno (3-1) pitched a scoreless sixth inning to earn the victory. Brad Boxberger worked through the ninth to nail down his 32nd save.
The Royals were narrowly unsuccessful in their bid to sweep the seven-game season series with the Rays. They conclude the season 6-1 against Tampa Bay. Kansas City is 80-50 on the year.
Up next for Kansas City: September call-ups loom as the Royals will get an off day tomorrow. Johnny Cueto and Justin Verlander will square off on Tuesday when the Royals return home for a nine-game homestand.