Baseball / Sports

Rays snuff out Royals' ninth-inning rally, prevail 4-3

They hung their arms over the dugout railing and watched an offense breathe its last gasps. When Omar Infante swung through a 98-mph fastball, the night was over and a 4-3 Royals loss entered the books.

The Royals exited the visitors' dugout as a hail of cowbell clatter and applause swept this half-filled stadium. They grabbed two runs off Tampa Bay closer Jake McGee in the ninth, but could advance no further.

The ending was both bitter and eventful. The Royals had trailed by just a run heading into the eighth inning. But middle reliever Francisley Bueno surrendered a pair of scores to boost the Rays' advantage and energize an otherwise somnolent stadium.

At its apex, Tropicana Park is a quirky box of squawk. The atmosphere was far more subdued on Tuesday, in part because of the reduced expectations for the underachieving, and, in part, because very little of consequence occurred on the diamond until the final few frames.

The late Royals runs resulted from the top of their order. Lorenzo Cain notched his fourth hit of the game with a one-out single. Eric Hosmer slapped an opposite-field double. Salvador Perez plated the pair by smashing a single up the middle. But the advance faded from there. Alex Gordon grounded out and Infante connected only with air.

Jason Vargas surrendered just two runs, but he could not complete the sixth inning. He had suppressed his hosts up until that final go-round. After yielding a single and a double, Vargas watched a two-run single from third baseman Evan Longoria splash into right.

The Royals (46-43) missed an opportunity to collect their fifth win on this nine-game trip. The importance of Wednesday's game magnifies now. The club can capture a series victory, a positive record on the road swing and a spate of momentum to carry into a four-game series with Detroit before the All-Star break.

The lineup faced a pitcher making his season debut. Jeremy Hellickson underwent elbow surgery in January. The Royals generated traffic against him from the beginning of the night. Capitalizing on the opportunities occurred less often.

A pair of singles placed runners at the corners in the first -- then Infante flied out with two outs. Billy Butler looped a one-out single in the second -- a pair of flyouts followed. Cain walked and stole second to start the third -- Hellickson struck out Hosmer, fanned Perez in a 10-pitch encounter and caused Gordon to pop up to center.

At least Vargas could match scoreless frames with Hellickson. Six days ago, Vargas dazzled for seven innings against Minnesota. He was less domineering on Tuesday. At the start, the results were not much different.

The Royals' could not topple Hellickson until the fifth. Cain and Hosmer each netted singles. With runners at the corners, Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon removed his starter and inserted right-hander Brad Boxberger.

Besides an aurally pleasing name, Boxberger possesses a fastball that rises into the mid-90s in velocity. Perez swung through the first two he saw. The third he demurred on, and the fourth he chopped up the middle. The pitch bounced high enough to dissuade shortstop Ben Zobrist from attempting to start a double play, and Cain scored from third.

The run did not hold up. The Rays broke through for their lone rally. Then the quiet returned to this oddly lit, oddly built park. The Royals return here on Wednesday for a chance to end this trip on a positive note.

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