Salvador Perez took a few steps down the line and watched with his neck craned upward toward the left-field pole. His drive hung for an agonizing amount of time, as Perez stood with his bat in his head and the game's fate in the balance.
When it fell, when the three-run home run became official and the Royals had captured a lead in a 5-4 victory, Perez exploded. He leapt in the air. He assaulted the outstretched hand of first-base coach Rusty Kuntz. He pointed at his dugout and pumped his fists as he rounded third.
It was a ninth-inning blast that saved the Royals the indignity of a losing record on this nine-game jaunt. Thanks to the late bolt of lightning, the Royals (47-43) exit Tropicana Field with a 5-4 record on this trip. Now, the Royals returns to Kauffman Stadium for a four-game series against the division-leading Tigers. They will be without Jason Vargas, and likely without Alex Gordon. But they will have momentum.
Perez punished rookie Kirby Yates, who Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon had called upon to replace struggling reliever Joel Peralta. Perez also lifted Yordano Ventura off the hook. Ventura lasted five innings, but yielded a grand slam to fellow rookie Kevin Kiermaier in the fourth.
The Royals recovered from an otherwise frustrating night at the plate. Before Perez went deep, the lone extra-base hit was a solo home run by Eric Hosmer in the first inning. They squandered opportunities all evening.
Hosmer faced Alex Cobb for the first time since a haunting incident last season. On June 15, 2013, Hosmer rocketed a line drive off the back of Cobb's head. The concussion shelved Cobb for two months.
This time, Hosmer only damaged the Rays' dimming playoff hopes. He walloped a 92-mph fastball in the inner half of the strike zone. His fifth home run of the season afforded Ventura a lead before he even took the mound.
The lead doubled in the fourth. But it could have been much more. The Royals clapped a trio of singles off Cobb. There were no outs when Raul Ibanez stepped to the plate. He had been hitless since a home run on July 2, and so he would remain. At least his groundout plated Salvador Perez.
The next two at-bats were less productive. Danny Valencia lined out to third. Alcides Escobar swung through a changeup to end the threat.
Tampa Bay did not waste their chance. After a single by Evan Longoria and a walk by James Loney, Ventura survived thanks to a pair of lineouts to Ibanez in left. He granted the Rays life when he walked catcher Jose Molina.
Up came Kiermaier, a rookie tempest. Ventura tossed him a changeup at the belt. The slam crashed into the right-field seats.
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