ST. PETERSBURG -- It was a crusher.
The Tampa Bay Rays struck for five runs in the ninth inning to deal Kansas City an 8-7 loss on Wednesday night, the Royals' third straight loss at Tropicana Field.
With the Royals holding a 7-3 lead after Melky Cabrera's three-run homer in the top of the ninth, Aaron Crow was dispatched to the mound but, after successive singles by Matt Joyce and Johnny Damon, manager Ned Yost quickly switched to closer Joakim Soria.
Sure, Yost had thought about starting the ninth inning with Soria. In fact, that was his plan when the score was 4-3. Then Cabrera teed off, upping his bag to five RBIs for the night and putting the Royals ahead by four.
"It changed everything," Yost said. "We were going to go ahead with Jack in a one- or two-run lead in a save situation and Melky hit it, boom. And then we got Aaron up and he had plenty of time to get loose."
Even in a non-save situation, Yost might have used Soria, but with an early start time on Thursday he didn't want to risk having to come back with his closer that quickly.
But with two runners on, Soria was waved in to replace Crow. However, Evan Longoria doubled in a run and Ben Zobrist's groundout pushed home another. Casey Kotchman's grounder couldn't be handled by Johnny Giavotella at second and it went for an RBI single, closing the gap to 7-6.
"Things got away from us pretty quick," Crow said.
Soria struck out B.J. Upton, but Sam Fuld tripled to right-center and scored when Giavotella's throw skipped past third base and rolled to the wall.
"It was on the money and right when Fuld dove, it bounced and hit him in the back of the foot or somewhere," third baseman Mike Moustakas said. "It kicked away and that guy's so fast, if that ball scooted away just a little bit he's got an opportunity to score. It just didn't fall the right way for us tonight. It was a perfect throw and it just hit him."
Fuld came home on the error, prompting a wild celebration by the Rays at the plate.
"It was the craziest 360 feet I've ever run," Fuld said.
This was the Royals' 16th loss in their last 20 games at Tropicana Field.
It all began so well, too. The Royals ended a 20-inning scoring drought at the Trop with two runs in the fourth inning against right-hander Wade Davis.
With one out, Jeff Francoeur hustled to turn his line drive to right-center field into a double. Giavotella lofted a long fly ball to deeper right center and scampered to a triple while Francoeur scored. Salvador Perez, in his first Major League game, hit a sacrifice fly to right field for his first RBI.
The Royals went up, 3-0, in the fifth as Alcides Escobar doubled and moved up twice on flyouts, scoring on Cabrera's sacrifice fly.
Royals starter Felipe Paulino was dented by Joyce's solo home run in the fifth inning and didn't come out for the sixth because of a stiff back caused by running on the AstroTurf field earlier this week. So, Yost turned to his relievers. They gave him some tense moments before giving up just one run. The Rays got that off Tim Collins on Zobrist's single, a wild pitch and Kotchman's single.
An out and a walk later, Collins was replaced by Louis Coleman who, after an out, loaded the bases with a walk. But he got Joyce to foul out to Perez, stranding three runners.
Perez's first hit, a leadoff single up the middle, helped the Royals make it 4-2 in the seventh. Escobar's one-out walk prompted the Rays to replace Davis with left-hander J.P. Howell, one of five ex-Royals on their team. He promptly walked Alex Gordon to load the bases and Cabrera knocked in Perez with a sacrifice fly to left. But Billy Butler struck out.
Perez not only got his first hit, first run and first RBI but he caught five pop-ups and picked two runners off base. Perez's two pick-offs were the first by Royals catchers all season.
"He was spectacular," Yost said. "We know he can catch a pop-up, we know he can pick guys off. He picked a guy off first, a guy off third and almost a guy off second. So, he had a great debut."
In the eighth the Rays closed the gap to 4-3 as reliever Greg Holland walked Upton and Fuld and pinch-hitter Desmond Jennings each singled, producing a run.
Cabrera's three-run homer in the ninth gave the Royals a 7-3 advantage. His 14th blast of the season came off left-hander Jake McGee after Escobar doubled and Gordon walked.
But, just ahead, disaster loomed.
"Everything just happened so fast," Yost said. "It went from a four-run lead to them scoring five runs -- boom!"
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.