The KC Royals, their status as one of the majors' worst teams preserved after dropping two of three to the Tigers, arrived in Florida late Wednesday for a four-game series with the best team in the big leagues. Sweeping Tampa was out of the question; even the idea of a split seemed too far-fetched to consider.
The Royals, though, fooled everyone. They headed home late Sunday with a hard-earned split and, had Taylor Clarke not spoiled Daniel Lynch's quality start Sunday by handing the Rays two late runs (more on that in a moment), they might have taken the series 3-1.
But even with Sunday's disappointing loss, taking two from the Rays is nothing to sneer at, especially for a team bracing for a 100-loss season. And while the two wins won't turn this club around, some things stand out from KC's four days in Florida. Let's look at three.
How much does a starter's first win mean for him and the KC Royals?
Bound to happen sooner or later was what finally occurred Saturday. After the Rays redeemed themselves from Thursday night's opening loss by blowing out KC 11-3 Friday, the Royals rewarded starter Jordan Lyles with enough run support to negate the 4-0 hole he dug for them after only two innings.
Two things made the victory especially significant: Lyles pitched four superb innings after his rocky start, and the win was his first as a Royal after going a major league record 15 starts without a win to begin the season.
How good was Lyles after spotting the Rays four runs? Helped by a timely double-play, he faced the minimum three batters in the third, allowed only a single in the fourth, and retired the Rays in order in the fifth and sixth. By the time the bullpen took over to begin the seventh, the Royals had scored eight times to take a lead they wouldn't relinquish.
But other than the fact he finally won, the triumph probably won't mean much in the long run. Kansas City has already been defeated too many times for it to make any difference in the season's outcome, and pitching wins no longer mean what they once did. But then again, one win is better than none.