The Royals wrapped up a dreadful seven-game home stand with a picture-perfect 6-1 victory over first-place Tampa Bay on a beautiful Sunday afternoon at Kauffman Stadium.
“It’s good to get out of here with a win,” Royals manager Trey Hillman said. “It wasn’t the home stand we wanted, but we split with Tampa.”
For five innings, starter Kyle Davies was pitching perfectly for him. He sailed through those innings, allowing just one walk and only one Tampa Bay player to reach third base.
“The first five innings were a whole lot better considering how bad it was the last start,” said Davies, who improved to 4-2. “I know I didn’t give up a lot of runs the last start, but I had three-ball counts to just about every hitter.
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“Today, the first four or five hitters I had two strikes on them before I had two balls. That’s the way you have to pitch at the start of the game, to get ahead and stay ahead.”
In the grand scheme of things, it didn’t matter that Davies’ day came quickly to a halt in the sixth. The Royals got clutch relief pitching by Ron Mahay and plenty of power from Mike Aviles, Billy Butler and David DeJesus.
The three-run bomb by Butler with two outs in the bottom of the seventh was the most resounding blow the Royals had in the last week.
“Since the break, he’s looking at more pitches and not unloading right away,” Hillman said. “It gives him better rhythm and better timing at the plate.”
Tampa Bay, trailing just 3-1 with two outs in the seventh, elected to intentionally walk DeJesus with Esteban German on second. The move made some sense. DeJesus already had two doubles, scored a run and knocked in a run.
But Butler entered Sunday’s game a bit on a home run binge. He had three in his last nine. It turned into four homers in his last 10 games when Butler hit an Al Reyes pitch halfway up the leftfield foul pole that gave the Royals a 6-1 cushion.
It came on a 3-2 count in which Butler fouled off several pitches before unloading.
“I got a good pitch to hit and made the best of it,” said Butler, who finished with four RBIs. “I feel I’m a late-count hitter. At that point in the at bat I saw everything he had.”
The way the Royals finished the series took some sting out of a 2-5 home stand that saw them give up 19 runs to Detroit on July 21, go hitless for six innings against Detroit on Wednesday and misplay a pop up that led to a loss on Saturday against Tampa Bay.
But on Sunday, everything was Royal blue good.
Aviles ripped a solo homer in the bottom of the first. That was the only hit by Kansas City in the first three innings, but it was good enough to keep the team in front.
Davies was throwing the ball well, particularly when the Rays put men on base.
Davies gave up a hit in each of the first four innings, including doubles in the third and fourth, but he prevented the Rays from scoring.
Kansas City then showed some doubles power in the bottom of the fourth and added to its lead. DeJesus led off with a double, and Butler followed with an RBI double.
The Royals added another run in the bottom of the fifth on an RBI double by DeJesus with two outs.
Davies took a 3-0 lead to the top of sixth, seemingly in complete control. But the Rays struck quickly. B.J. Upton walked to start the inning. Stole second and moved to third on a wild pitch. Carl Crawford ripped a run-scoring single and Evan Longoria followed with a double.
And in a matter of a few minutes, Davies was out of the game with the Royals ahead 3-1, but the Rays had runners on second and third with no outs.
Mahay entered and did a masterful job of keeping the Royals ahead two runs. Mahay struck out Carlos Pena, got Willy Aybar to a weak pop up to second and pinch hitter Jonny Gomes to fly out to left.
“It’s a tough team to pitch to,” Mahay said. “I saw the signs and went after it. I lucked out, a tough team like that and tough hitters. I was fortunate enough to strike out the first batter and get a couple of fly balls.”
The game could have turned out ugly for the Royals, but Mahay made sure everything turned out well.
“I already told him wherever he wants to go, I will buy him food,” Davies said. “He did a great job getting out of that jam. It’s not an easy part of the lineup to go through, especially second and third and nobody out in a two-run game. He did an incredible job getting out of it.”