This is what Royals manager Trey Hillman means when he stresses, as he often does, the need to play catch. This is consequence for failing to do so.
Carl Crawford punished the Royals for two defensive misplays in the outfield Saturday night by lashing a two-run triple in the eighth inning that provided the difference in Tampa Bay’s 6-4 victory at Kauffman Stadium.
Hillman wasn’t around to see it. He was ejected in the fourth inning by umpire Brian O’Nora for arguing a call at first. Perhaps that’s a good thing. The eighth inning was far worse.
Trouble started with the score tied 2-2 in the eighth after reliever Horacio Ramirez retired his eighth straight batter. Ramirez replaced starter Luke Hochevar to start the sixth inning following a rain delay of 1 hour, 13 minutes.
Akinori Iwamura punched a two-out single up the middle, but Ramirez seemed likely to get out of the inning when B.J. Upton hit a high fly into short right field.
Except right fielder José Guillen broke late on the ball, and second baseman Mark Grudzielanek turned the wrong way after a long run. Neither came close to making the catch.
The ball fell for a double. Iwamua stopped at third.
Ramirez still had a chance to maintain the tie when Crawford sliced a first-pitch fastball down the left-field line. Esteban German reached the ball but failed to make the catch against the wall in foul territory.
It was a tough play; no error was assessed. It was still costly. Crawford ripped the next pitch into the right-center gap for a two-run triple and a 4-2 lead.
Just for insurance, Carlos Peña opened the ninth inning with a homer over the left-field wall against Joel Peralta. Peña also had a homer Friday in the Rays’ 5-3 victory and is 11 for 29 this season against the Royals with four homers.
Al Reyes, 2-2, got the victory for working a scoreless seventh inning. Troy Percival allowed one run in the ninth before securing his 22nd save in 24 opportunities. Ramirez, 1-1, was the tough-luck loser.
The victory enabled Tampa Bay, 61-42, to stretch its lead to two games in the American League East Division over second-place Boston. The Royals, 46-59, missed a chance to vault past Cleveland and out of last place in the AL Central.
The Royals out-hit the Rays 10-8. They got three doubles from Grudzielanek and two hits apiece from German and Ross Gload. They erased a 2-0 deficit against Kazmir.
They just didn’t catch the ball when it mattered.
The Rays opened the scoring after Peña led off the second inning with a walk. Peña went to second on an infield out and to third on Dioner Navarro’s single to right.
Hochevar jumped ahead 0-2 on Eric Hinske, but Hinske worked the count back to full in a 10-pitch at-bat. That prompted Tampa Bay to start Navarro on the final pitch, which prevented a double play when Hinske grounded to second.
Peña scored on the play for a 1-0 lead.
The Royals missed their chance to pull even after a single by German and a two-out double by Grudzielanek put runners at second and third. Guillen ended the inning with a pop to second.
Tampa Bay extended its lead 2-0 after opening the fourth with a double by Evan Longoria, who went to third on Peña’s single to center. Longoria scored on Willy Aybar’s fielder’s-choice grounder to second.
Hillman got ejected in the Royals’ fourth after first-base umpire Brian O’Nora appeared to miss successive calls to start the inning.
The first possible miss benefited the Royals. Longoria booted Butler’s leadoff chopper to third but appeared to recover in time to get Butler at first. O’Nora ruled Butler beat the throw.
Alex Gordon followed with a bunt to the left side and appeared to beat Kazmir’s throw to first, but O’Nora signaled out. Hillman charged onto the field and, after an extended beef, was ejected.
Gload’s two-out single scored Butler and cut the deficit to 2-1.
The rain hit just as Hochevar completed a one-two-three top of the fifth.
Kazmir returned after the break and retired the first two hitters before Grudzielanek blooped his third double of the game. This time, Guillen came through. He fought off a 3-2 fastball for an RBI single to right that pulled the Royals even at 2-2.
Ramirez replaced Hochevar to start that sixth. Hochevar allowed two runs and four hits in five innings.
Trever Miller took over for Kazmir to begin the sixth, which meant both starters settled for no-decisions. Kazmir gave up two runs and seven hits in five innings.
Guillen had a chance to drive in the go-ahead run in the seventh when he batted with one out and runners on first and third against Reyes. Instead, Guillen grounded into an inning-ending double play.