ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. | This seemed made to order for a struggling Royals’ attack, right? An opposing starter Tuesday night with a nice, fat earned-run average in the upper sevens.
Andy Sonnanstine come on down.
Turns out, that wasn’t enough to pull the Royals out of their extended spin as they opened a three-city trip with a 6-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field.
Sonnanstine, 4-5, was solid, too, in getting the victory. He yielded just two runs in 6 2/3 innings and lowered his ERA from 7.66 to 7.07.
Grant Balfour and J.P. Howell closed out the victory for the Rays, the reigning American League champs who, by winning, avoided the possibility of falling into the East Division basement.
The Royals haven’t yet hit bottom in the AL Central, thanks to Cleveland, but they are an increasingly solid fourth after losing for the 17th time in 22 games and falling to 23-28.
Their run production consisted of solo homers by José Guillen in the second inning and Miguel Olivo in the fifth. The first gave the Royals a 1-0 lead; the second pulled them even at 2-2.
Royals starter Kyle Davies allowed just three hits in 5 2/3 innings but struggled with his command _ throwing 114 pitches and walking six. He exited after two two-out walks in the sixth with the score tied 2-2.
Manager Trey Hillman summoned Horacio Ramirez for a lefty-lefty matchup against Matt Joyce _ and Joyce won by slicing a two-run double into the left-center gap.
All four runs were charged to Davies, who fell to 2-5 as his winless streak hit six starts. The six walks were telltale. It marked the seventh time in his career that he walked five or more _ and he is 0-4 with 6.89 ERA in those games.
Equally telling, his team in 0-7 in those games.
Joyce also had a two-run homer in the eighth inning against reliever Roman Colon that served, effectively, as the knockout blow. Tampa Bay’s other runs came on Ben Zobrist’s two-run homer in the fourth.
Both teams finished with just six hits, but the Rays, benefiting from those walks, scored two runs while getting one hits in three different innings.
The signs were there early that this wouldn’t end well.
Davies started his night by walking B.J. Upton and Carl Crawford, although he got away with it. Evan Longoria hit a soft pop to second before Carlos Peña and Willy Aybar struck out on full-court pitches.
It all took 30 pitches, though.
Guillen’s fifth homer, a one-out shot, staked the Royals to a 1-0 lead in the second inning. He hammered a slow-curve offering from Sonnanstine for a no-doubter over the left-field wall.
The Royals threatened for more when two-out singles by David DeJesus and Olivo, and a throwing error by Zobrist, put runners at second and third. Tony Peña, just off the disabled list, tried a push bunt up the first-base line, but Sonnanstine fielded it easily for the final out.
The Rays put their speed on display in the third inning and lost two gambles. Upton led off with a single and stole second before breaking for third on Crawford’s grounder to short. Tony Peña made a strong throw for an out at third.
Crawford then stole second _ on a pitchout _ for his 31st steal in 32 attempts. But he tried for third, too, and Olivo made a strong throw for the out.
With speed thwarted, Tampa Bay turned to muscle in taking a 2-1 lead in the fourth. Zobrist yanked a two-run drive into the right-field seats after Aybar’s one-out walk.
The lead didn’t last; the Royals pulled even on Olivo’s one-out homer in the fifth inning.
When Davies departed after those two two-out walks in the sixth, it meant he ended the game the way he started _ back-to-back walks. The last two hurt a lot more than the first two when Joyce whacked his double against Ramirez.
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