With a few more decisions like this, Joe Maddon will be clearing space on his mantle for another manager of the year award.
Thinking he needed to get at-bats for some of Tampa Bay’s reserves, Maddon opted to give Willy Aybar his second start since June 30 and put him at second base. All Aybar did was go 3-for-3 against Zack Greinke and then add an RBI double off Juan Cruz for the go-ahead run in the eighth Saturday night in a 4-2 victory over Kansas City.
It was the second consecutive collapse of the Kansas City bullpen and wasted a good effort by Greinke, who departed after seven innings with a 2-1 lead.
“Man, Joe’s a genius, isn’t he?” said Pat Burrell, who also had a key hit in Tampa’s second straight come-from-behind win.
Actually, Maddon confessed, he’s not.
“It’s just one of those things. I cannot take credit for that,” he said. “This is something we do back at the office and we really crunch numbers and just so many different things, and Willy came out on top vs. Greinke. So we had to throw him out there.”
Aybar also atoned for a tough error that led to Kansas City’s taking a 2-1 lead.
“I think this is the first time I faced (Greinke),” he said through an interpreter.
John Bale walked Carlos Pena leading off the eighth and then with one out, Burrell’s RBI double off Cruz (3-4) tied it 2-2. Then Aybar doubled into the right-field corner for a 3-2 lead. B.J. Upton‘s RBI single off Roman Colon, his third hit, made it 4-2 in the eighth.
Cruz, who gave up Evan Longoria‘s booming two-run homer in the eighth inning Friday night, blew a save for the second straight game. The veteran right-hander has lost four in a row after winning 11 consecutive decisions over a span of almost two seasons, which had been the longest active streak in the majors.
“Obviously, things get streaky in this game,” said Maddon. “The guy’s got a great arm. I said it before the game, I like the way our players are right now. I think they know it’s time.”
Chad Bradford (1-0), the fourth of Tampa’s six pitchers, threw two pitches in the seventh and got the win and J. P. Howell pitched the ninth for his eighth save in 13 opportunities.
Each team scored a run in the second. Jason Bartlett had an RBI single off Greinke and Alberto Callaspo‘s double off Scott Kazmir drove in Alex Gordon.
Greinke, who had lost his last two starts when the Royals scored a total of one run, went seven innings, giving up nine hits with three walks and seven strikeouts.
Royals manager Trey Hillman, drawing increasing fire from fans for the way he uses pitchers, elected for the second night in a row to keep Cruz in the game in the eighth and refused to bring former All-Star closer Joakim Soria into the game before the ninth.
“I want Soria in the game, too. But I’m not going to sell my soul to the devil for a guy (Soria) that’s already had two major injuries,” he said. “I’m not going run the risk of injuring Soria when the rest of the bullpen on any given day quite frankly has been shaky.”
Kazmir, who missed 33 days with a strain of the right quadriceps muscle and had not won since May 9, left after the sixth with mild cramping in his left forearm. He held the Royals to one run and four hits, with four walks and three strikeouts.
“We already put fluids in me and it feels great, Kazmir said. “Everything is fine now. Everything is good.”‘
After Grant Balfour walked Alberto Callaspo with one out in the seventh, Yuniesky Betancourt hit a grounder to Aybar at second. He let the ball go through his legs and was given an error for allowing Callaspo to reach third.
Randy Choate then relieved Balfour and Callaspo scored the go-ahead run when David DeJesus beat the throw to first on what could have been an inning-ending double play.
“I told him, ‘Listen, man that’s a bad hop,”‘ said Maddon. “Forget about it and let’s move on.’ And he did.”
The Royals have lost seven of eight. … Upton singled leading off the Tampa third but was picked off by Greinke. … Boosted by stadium renovations costing more than $250 million, the Royals have had 15 crowds of 30,000 or more, seven more than the entire 2008 season. … The Rays are 5-0 against KC this year.