ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. The home run ball banged around the empty seats in section 147 at Tropicana Field, freshly struck by a left-handed-hitting rookie who had not reached base in his first 15 major-league at-bats against lefty pitchers.
Forgive him if he kept his gaze trained a few extra seconds on the smattering of ball-hocking fans in that left-center field spot on Tuesday night. After all, it was Ryan OHearns fifth homer in 14 games since making his debut on July 31. It was his first career hit against a lefty. And it was only the second homer All-Star Rays starter Blake Snell, the left-handed pitcher in question, had allowed to a lefty hitter in 67 career starts.
In the end, the fifth-inning homer made little difference. The Royals lost 4-1 to the Rays for their sixth defeat in eight games.
But it did provide further ammo for the Royals to keep auditioning OHearn, 25, as the season winds down to its final month.
OHearns homer snapped the Rays streak of 27 scoreless innings pitched and the Royals streak of 20 2/3 innings without scoring.
Snell, who departed after six innings with an improved 2.07 ERA, allowed just four hits. He struck out 11 Royals batters.
The Royals stranded eight on base and were just 1 for 8 with runners in scoring position as their season record dropped to 38-88.
One inning does in Sparkman: In his second start for the Royals, Glenn Sparkman made it four innings again. But unlike in his outing against the Blue Jays on Aug. 16, Sparkman struggled to keep his opponent off the base paths and elevated his pitch count to 88. He allowed three walks and yielded seven hits to the Rays, who scored three times against him.
Willy Adames opened scoring in the second inning, striking Sparkmans 94 mph fastball so hard it hit the C-Ring of Tropicana Fields catwalk and ricocheted toward the left-field wall.
The Rays padded their lead in the fourth. Catcher Michael Perez got the better of Royals shortstop Adalberto Mondesi on a ground ball and reached on a hit. He scored three batters later, when Joey Wendle whacked a ground ball down the first-base line that smacked into a Papa Johns Pizza advertisement in foul territory. By the time right fielder Rosell Herrera could pick the ball up behind the Rays bullpen mound, Perez and Tommy Pham, who drew a two-out walk, had already scored on Wendles two-run triple.
Sparkman retired the next batter but was replaced by reliever Burch Smith, who pitched the next three innings and one run to score on five hits as he struck out four batters.
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