ST. PETERSBURG — Royals right-hander Jordan Lyles waited at the top of the steps on Saturday, giving high fives as his teammates arrived from the visiting dugout to enter their victorious clubhouse at Tropicana Field. Smiles were everywhere.
Lyles finally escaped the shadow of unwanted history – the Royals hadn’t won with him on the mound this season, an 0-for-15 streak that set an MLB record in the era of Live Ball (since 1920) – and he did it resoundingly with Kansas City’s 9-4 win over Tampa Bay.
“It was another reminder that shaking hands after games is great fun,” Lyles (1-11) said after his first win with the Royals. “Obviously we didn’t do that when I (started). It’s really good to win.
“My mindset hasn’t changed, record high. I’m a very positive guy overall. I believe tomorrow is another day to get better. It may sound cliché, but I’m still learning and I’m always trying to improve myself. I’m always looking to find something to get me out of the way.”
Lyles said he was very happy with the way Saturday’s victory went. He went six innings, allowing four runs on eight hits. But he was solidly supported by the Royals’ offense, which erased a 4-0 Rays lead after two innings.
The difference was a two-out, three-run homer from receiver Freddy Fermin in the fourth against Rays starter Yonny Chirinos, giving the Royals a 6-4 lead they wouldn’t give up. Drew Waters and Edward Olivares also contributed solo homers in the 11-hit offense.
But the most important factor was the throw. After a fourth-inning single from Vidal Bruján, Kansas City pitchers (Lyles, Carlos Hernández and Nick Wittgren) retired the last 17 batters for the Rays, who entered the game ranked second in MLB in runs per game. (5.62) and hits (708). And Kansas City did after Tampa Bay put up an offensive clinic with 17 hits in their 11-3 win over the Royals on Friday night.
“We got a really effective pitch count (from Lyles) and the bullpen was off,” Royals manager Matt Quatraro said. “You feel really good for Jordan. Someone like him who’s been in this game for a long time, he’s very proud of what he’s doing. He’s done very well during this (winless drought).
When the Rays took a 4-0 lead over Lyles after two innings, Quatraro said the Royals’ third inning three-run, kicked off by Waters’ solo homer, was a needed response. That gave the Royals, who have 28 leads at the top of MLB this season, a comeback victory.
“Down runs (four runs) didn’t look great, but our guys stayed aggressive, looking to hit the first pitch, and they did it,” Quatraro said.
“Any time a team goes up four (points) and if you don’t respond, it’s a bit difficult,” Waters said. “But we bounced back and made some runs. You show the other team that there is still life. At the end of the match, we really opened it up.
In the fourth, with Olivares and Waters on board with two outs, Fermin changed the game with a three-point blast on Chirinos’ first offering. Fermin added a pair of singles and went 3 for 3.
“That was my plan (to skip the first pitch),” Fermin said. “When I hit the ball, I knew it was gone.”
The Royals (22-55) can capture the series against the Rays (53-27) with a win on Sunday. The Rays (33-10 at the Trop) haven’t lost consecutive home games since April 25-26 against the Astros.
“You hope it’s a confidence builder and a momentum builder, but I’m not a big believer in that,” Quatraro said. “Tomorrow is the day, isn’t it? When we arrive tomorrow, the Rays don’t care what happened today. It’s a new start.
“It would be great to get out of here, maybe win three games here and finish a good road trip. Any victory is a good victory. Anytime you can stack things and string them together, that’s what we’re looking to do.
Waters said the performance against the Rays had already given confidence.
“When it comes to the Royals, everyone wants to focus on what we’re not doing,” Waters said. “But I think it will show what we are capable of. As long as we stay on track and continue to play as a team, I think good things are on the way.