How the KC Royals’ 8-game winning streak ended in Tampa with 4-1 loss to Rays

The Tampa Bay Rays snapped the Kansas City Royals’ eight-game winning streak on Sunday afternoon.

What began as a perfect start turned sour for the Royals in the seventh inning as the Rays, who dropped the first two games of the series, salvaged a 4-1 home victory at Tropicana Field.

KC’s right-handed starting pitcher, Michael Wacha, charted a historic path early. He took a perfect-game bid into the sixth inning.

“I was aware of that,” Wacha said. “But I was just was still focused on making quality pitches. I felt like I had good command and good mix going there for most game.”

In the seventh, Rays shortstop Jose Caballero ended Wacha’s pursuit of perfection with a leadoff double. Pinch-hitter Brandon Lowe later hit a three-run triple off reliever John Schreiber as Tampa Bay took its first lead.

“The seventh inning leaves a little sour taste in your mouth,” Wacha said.

Outfielder Jose Siri finished the Rays’ seventh, and their Sunday scoring, with an RBI single.

“It’s a tight game and you don’t want to give up anything,” Wacha said. “You know, I just put Schreiber in a tough spot coming in there with two on in scoring position and nobody out.”

Wacha was charged with two runs and took the loss. But he was solid in a return start against one of his former teams. The veteran who signed with the Royals this past offseason navigated an all-right-handed lineup, utilized his slider alongside a fastball and changeup.

The slider registered 11 swings and five whiffs, per Baseball Savant.

Rays starting pitcher Taj Bradley, meanwhile, cooled off the Royals’ red-hot offense. KC had scored at least seven runs in each of its last six games.

But Bradley presented a difficult, and different, challenge. He mixed his pitches well — relying primarily on his fastball and splitter — across five scoreless innings. He allowed one hit, issued three walks and struck out six.

The Royals mustered just seven hits. Bobby Witt Jr.’s sixth-inning home run accounted for KC’s only run.

The Royals squandered a late scoring opportunity when Rays star Randy Arozarena threw out Witt as the latter player attempted to score from second base.

“They say I’m one of the fastest guys in the league,” Witt said. “So anytime we try to take a shot, do it.”

The Royals had the go-ahead run at the plate in the ninth inning, but Rays reliever (and former Mizzou Tiger) Pete Fairbanks worked out of trouble to earn his fifth save of the year.

“It was a good ballgame and a really well-pitched game,” Royals manager Matt Quatraro said. “They came up with the big hit when they needed it. We fought back and just came up a little bit short.”

The Royals dropped to 34-20 this season. They begin a four-game series against the Twins in Minneapolis on Memorial Day (Monday).

Missed previous games of the series?

Game 1: Seth Lugo shines as Royals take series-opener against Rays

Game 2: Royals overcame Rays with 7-4 victory in extra innings

Here are more notable aspects of Sunday’s game:

MJ Melendez makes highlight catch

As Wacha was chasing perfection, he got a little defensive help from his teammates.

Royals left-fielder MJ Melendez made a terrific sliding grab to rob Rays outfielder Siri of extra bases in the third inning.

Siri sliced a 93.9 mph fastball down the left-field line. The baseball tailed away from Melendez as he shaded Siri toward center field. However, Melendez recovered ground and snared the ball on the warning track.

The catch ended the third inning. It also preserved Wacha’s hot streak, as he’d sat down nine consecutive batters at that point.

“You saw some of those great plays that the defense was showcasing out there early in that game,” Wacha said. “With Maikel over there at third with the line drive and MJ out there in left with the diving catch, those are big and you need those to kind of (plays to) preserve those no-hitter, tight games.”

Melendez received a positive ovation for his catch from some Royals fans in attendance at the Trop. He also got a bunch of high-fives a short time later upon returning to the Royals’ dugout.

Garrett Hampson wins 5th inning duel

Royals utilityman Garrett Hampson held serve against Bradley in the fifth inning.

Hampson, who started in center field, saw 12 pitches in his second at-bat of the game. He was able to foul off eight before working a walk.

The entire sequence represented the longest plate appearance that ended in a walk of Hampson’s big-league career. His previous high was 11 pitches, set last year when he was with the Miami Marlins.

“That’s probably what got Bradley out after five (innings),” Quatraro said. “The walk, previously to MJ, that was a really good at-bat as well. And he tacked on some pitches right there.”

What’s next on the KC Royals’ schedule?

The Royals next begin a four-game series against the Minnesota Twins. On Monday, Royals right-hander Alec Marsh draws the start at Target Field.

Marsh (4-1) has been solid this season. He will search for his fifth win in a Memorial Day matchup against Twins veteran Joe Ryan.

Ryan owns a 3.15 ERA in 10 starts. He allowed one earned run in 5 1/3 innings against the Royals on March 30.