ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – It’s a common-enough experience. A summer trip every year you just dread. Maybe it’s work-related. More likely, it’s some family obligation. But whatever it is, you just know, before you go, you’d rather schedule a root canal.
For the Royals, for more than five years now, that place is Tropicana Field.
The Royals opened a three-game series Monday night at the Trop with a 5-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays – and it was all so familiar.
It didn’t matter that the Royals just completed a rousing homestand, are on their best sustained run of the season or even that they swept the Rays when the teams met for three games in late June at Kauffman Stadium.
The Trop put a stop to all of that.
Yes, to be fair, the Rays are playing well, too, at the moment. But would it have mattered? The Royals are 4-22 since June 2007 while playing in baseball’s only remaining non-opening dome.
Tampa Bay right-hander Jeremy Hellickson evened his record at 8-8 by breezing through seven innings. The Rays backed him with an 11-hit attack with much of the damage coming from the eight, nine and one hitters against Royals starter Will Smith.
The No. 8 guy, José Lobaton, had two hits, a walk, a run and an RBI; No. 9 Elliot Johnson had two hits and an RBI; and leadoff man Desmond Jennings had a triple (before scoring on a wild pitch) and an RBI double.
All of that left Smith, 4-5, with his worst outing in seven starts since returning from Class AAA Omaha. He lasted just 3 2/3 innings before exiting after allowing four runs and eight hits.
Reliever Everett Teaford served up Jeff Keppinger’s one-out homer in the fifth, which extended the Rays’ lead to 5-1.
Former Royals J.P. Howell and Kyle Farnsworth – and doesn’t that sting just a bit – closed out Hellickson’s victory. The Royals lost for just the fourth time in 13 games.
Want a hopeful sign? There was at least one.
Alex Gordon went two for three with a walk and drove in the Royals’ only run. That’s better than it sounds. He entered the series with just two hits in 53 previous career at-bats at the Trop.
So who knows? Things change.
The Royals mounted an early threat by getting two-out singles in the first inning from Gordon and Billy Butler, but Hellickson ended the threat when Salvy Perez grounded to third.
That allowed Tampa Bay to open the scoring in the second.
Smith issued a one-out walk to Sean Rodriguez, who came around on successive two-out singles by Lobaton and Johnson. Rodriguez scored before Gordon threw out Lobaton at third on Johnson’s single.
The Royals scored their only run after starting the third with singles by Johnny Giavotella and Jarrod Dyson. First…Alcides Escobar fouled off two bunts with the corners charging and virtually the entire left side of the infield open.
And when Tampa Bay then repositioned its infield at a normal alignment, Escobar grounded into a double play.
But the Royals still pulled even when second baseman Ryan Roberts couldn’t handle Gordon’s grounder to the right side. It was scored a single and tied the game at 1-1.
The tie didn’t last.
Jennings opened the bottom of the inning with a triple off the top of the right-field wall. Lorenzo Cain caromed to the ground after colliding with the wall’s padding in pursuit of the ball, but Dyson got the ball quickly back to the infield.
Even so, Jennings reached third without a throw – and scored when Smith bounced a fastball past Perez for a wild pitch with B.J. Upton at the plate. Upton then walked and stole second, but Smith avoided further damage.
Rodriguez started the Rays’ fourth with a double before the eight-nine-one trifecta finished Smith. A one-out single by Lobaton, the eighth hitter, made it 3-1, and Johnson followed with a single.
Jennings then plugged the left-center gap with what seemed a likely two-run double. But Perez threw out his left leg, blocked the plate and tagged Johnson after taking a throw from Escobar.
It was bang-bang and, perhaps, Johnson touched the plate before Perez made the tag – but it was terrific stuff regardless. Another hopeful sign, maybe? Two more days to find out.