ST. PETERSBURG -- Just one inning after making a critical baserunning gaffe, Sam Fuld made it up for it in a big way.
With the Rays down by four runs entering the bottom of the ninth, Fuld capped a five-run ninth with a crazy walk-off triple that resulted in a 8-7 victory over the Royals on Wednesday at Tropicana Field.
Tampa Bay had already strung together four hits to narrow the deficit to one run before Fuld came up the plate, but he closed the deal.
Fuld crushed a 1-1 cutter from Royals closer Joakim Soria to the right-center field gap for a triple that allowed the tying run to score from first. The play wasn't done yet, though. As Fuld raced to third, the relay throw from second baseman Johnny Giavotella skipped past third baseman Mike Moustakas, allowing Fuld to score the winning run.
"It was the craziest 360 feet I've ever run," Fuld said of his first career walk-off hit.
The rally marked the second time this season that the Rays have used a five-run ninth inning to win a game. They also pulled it off against the White Sox on April 8 for their first win of the year.
But as Kansas City reflected back on the play following the game, Moustakas took the blame off his second baseman.
"It was on the money and right when [Fuld] dove, it bounced and hit him in the back of the foot or somewhere," 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."
Nevertheless, Fuld made it to home plate as he laid on his back after the play with his arms stretched in celebration.
"I wasn't going to try to get up because I'm pretty sure I would have been flattened if I had tried to get up there." Fuld said. "I was exhausted. There was no choice in the matter but to lay down for a second."
But one inning earlier, it looked like Fuld would be full of regret for his mistake on the bases.
After Desmond Jennings entered the game as a pinch-hitter and delivered an RBI single in the eighth, it looked like the Rays were in line to score more with runners on second and third and one out. But Royals catcher Salvador Perez, who was making his Major League debut, picked off Fuld at third base on a snap throw from his knees as Sean Rodriguez took a ball on a safety squeeze attempt. Rodriguez eventually struck out to end the frame.
"[It feels] like night and day. I felt awful about that," Fuld said. "I was just trying to be aggressive on that play. I didn't want to get caught flat footed if Sean got it down."
Fuld wasn't the only runner Perez gunned down. The 21-year-old showed off his arm in the fourth when he used a snap throw to catch Casey Kotchman leaning off first.
"He's pretty good," manager Joe Maddon said of Perez. "Quick release and very accurate. He caught us off guard."
It seemed like the entire Royals team had caught the Rays off guard for most of the game.
Whenever Tampa Bay scored, Kansas City came right back in what eventually turned into a 7-3 advantage for the Royals after Melky Cabrera, who finished with five RBIs, hit a three-run homer in the ninth off reliever Jake McGee.
Much earlier in the game, starter Wade Davis sidestepped his first-inning struggles by turning in a 1-2-3 first, but allowed four runs in 6 1/3 innings of work. Maddon found those numbers to be misleading, though.
"Wade Davis had great stuff tonight," Maddon said. "He threw the ball great. He should have pitched much deeper into that ballgame."
Another thing that turned out to be great was Maddon's pre-game strategy. After originally penciling in Fuld at the leadoff spot and Matt Joyce in the seven-hole, Maddon opted to flip them to have Joyce at the top of the order.
That move worked out, to say the least, as Joyce finished with three hits and a home run, and Fuld finished the game at the bottom of a celebration pile at home plate.
"I kind of put that to one of those Maddon moments," Joyce said, "where he makes the lineup and has Sam leading off and then something kind of clicks and he's like, 'You know what, why not? Let's just put Joyce at the top and see how the game works out.' It's just like, what do you have a crystal ball back there or something? It's pretty amazing."
It was that type of night for the Rays, who remained 8 1/2 games behind the Yankees in the American League Wild Card race and moved to within 10 games of Boston for first place in the AL East.
And for Fuld, it was an at-bat and a celebration to remember.
"The most exciting two minutes of my life," he said with a smile.
Anthony Chiang is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.