Royals escape no-no, win for Bannister
Buck's leadoff single in eighth breaks up gem, starts rally
ST. PETERSBURG -- Almost no-hit, the Royals instead cracked the Tampa Bay jinx on Sunday.
Brian Bannister actually outpitched James Shields, who took a no-hitter into the eighth inning, and the Royals finally defeated the Rays, 4-1, at Tropicana Field. Tampa Bay had won the first eight games between the clubs this season.
Mitch Maier made handsome contributions, knocking in three runs and making a perfect throw to home plate for the Royals.
"It was lucky sevens for me today -- 7-7 record, seven innings, seven punchouts," Bannister said, "so if that's what it took to get the seventh one, I'll take it."
Bannister pitched seven shutout innings -- giving up just five hits with no walks and seven strikeouts -- and after 117 pitches, ceded the last two innings to Joakim Soria. In his first outing in five days, Soria allowed a solo home run to Ben Zobrist in the ninth but got his 18th save.
Shields allowed only three bases on balls through seven innings. Then John Buck opened the eighth inning by poking a looping liner that fell in front of right fielder Gabe Gross for a single to end the spell.
At the point the score was still 0-0, a Bannister vs. Shields shootout.
"As a compliment to him, he's one of my favorite pitchers and one of the guys that I watch the most as far as the style he pitches," Bannister said. "And we came into the game with identical records (6-7), 3.80 ERAs and it was a good battle. We throw the same pitch mix and it was a lot of fun for me."
Shields received a standing ovation from the crowd of 27,930.
"It was a zero-zero ballgame, I wasn't really thinking about the no-hitter. I wasn't," Shields said. "All I wanted to do was shut them out, keep us in the game and get us the win. I didn't get the job done."
No, because the rest of the eighth inning turned into a Rays nightmare.
Alex Gordon bunted right in front of the plate. Catcher Dioner Navarro snatched up the ball but bounced a throw that zipped past second base. Ryan Freel, pinch-running for Buck, raced to third base on Navarro's error.
Maier got a single on a sharp up-the-middle grounder that deflected off shortstop Jason Bartlett's glove, and Freel scored for a 1-0 lead.
"It helped that the infield was in, it creates more holes," Maier said.
Pinch-hitter Mark Teahen popped out, but with David DeJesus at the plate and the hit-and-run play on, Maier broke toward second and was caught in a rundown.
"Gordon did a good job of reading the rundown situation when they sniffed out the hit-and-run," manager Trey Hillman said. "They probably stole a sign from us there some way, somehow, but Gordy did a good job."
That he did because while Maier eluded the Rays, Gordon dashed for home and Bartlett threw wildly past the plate. Gordon received credit for a steal of home -- the Royals' first since Mendy Lopez on May 31, 2003, against Oakland.
"That's not the conventional way to steal home but I guess it works," Gordon said. "Bartlett just kept creeping down the line until eventually I felt like he was going to throw it to first, and that's when I took off. I got a pretty good lead and a pretty good jump."
When DeJesus walked, Shields was relieved by Dan Wheeler, who ended the inning. But the Royals weren't through. They added two runs in the ninth as Maier cracked a two-run single after Jacobs singled and Freel bunted safely.
The Rays twice threatened Bannister. With one out in the second, Pat Burrell singled and Gross doubled, but Bannister escaped with two quick outs. In the sixth, B.J. Upton singled, stole second base and tried to score on Evan Longoria's single to center. However, Maier threw him out with a perfect throw to catcher Buck.
"I was kind of playing in at the time since at the time it was a tie ballgame," Maier said, "and I know he can run. Longoria hit one right at me; if he hits it anywhere else, I have no chance."
First baseman Billy Butler added theatrics to the play, leaping high as if to cut off the throw. That was just a deke to keep Longoria from advancing to second.
"That's what we were trying to do," Butler said. "It was a high throw and I was just making like I could catch it, and it keeps him at first."
So eventually Bannister got the win and Soria got his second six-out save this season. The layoff since last Tuesday at Baltimore didn't concern Soria.
"When I was a little kid, I just threw weekends, so I tried to think like that," Soria said.
So Soria saved the victory for Bannister, and Shields, instead of a no-hitter, got his eighth loss.
"I kind of had the feeling in the dugout that we were going to get to him," Gordon said. "I don't know if it was because Banny was pitching just as good and it was a 0-0 game, but nobody was pressing, nobody was worried that he was going to throw a no-hitter."
Bannister clearly savored the victory after seven innings of a classic pitchers' duel.
"If a guy takes a no-hitter into the eighth and you still beat him, it's a good team effort," Bannister said. "We hadn't beaten this team at all this year, so to win it that way was extra special today."
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.