KANSAS CITY, Mo. — There was plenty of good reason Wednesday to think the Rays would be headed to a familiar bad ending.
Their rightfielder was on the disabled list, and their hot-hitting third baseman spent the day in the trainer's room. Their starting pitcher came up short again, failing to get out of the fifth, to put further strain on a bullpen that should has "taxed" as its default status update. Their centerfielder made another of those head-scratching plays, botching a fly ball he seemed camped under.
Having already eeked out a pair of one-run wins after Sunday's embarrassment in Baltimore, the Rays' chances of finishing off a sweep — and in Kansas City, where the only good time they've had in recent years has been the barbecue, nonetheless — seemed far-fetched.
But sweep was exactly what they did, the 5-3 matinee win over the Royals not only boosting their confidence but showing just enough to draw you back into believing that hope, much less their season, is not lost.
For one, that the collective resiliency and determination of the players can overcome shortcomings and mistakes.
"I'm not going to get carried away, but the character of this team is pretty unique,'' manager Kevin Cash said. "A month and a half in, almost two months now, the guys jelled well together. They get frustrated together, but they kind of come out of it together. That's a sign of a pretty fluid clubhouse with good chemistry.''
For another, that the plan they developed in assembling the roster, emphasizing pitching, defense and contact hitting, and even the seemingly ill-fated short-staffed rotation/bullpen-dependent pitching program, maybe can work.
"All three of these games, these wins, really resemble the style of baseball that we envisioned maybe coming out of camp,'' Cash said. "Pitching well; playing really, really good defense and sprinkling some timely hitting.''
Obviously, there are a slew of qualifiers needed here.
Starting with the reality they are still only 19-22, haven't seen .500 since March and are much closer to last place than first. That the Royals team they beat is one of the worst in the majors, and the Rays just lost three of four to an Orioles team that isn't much better. And that they've teased before, after their miserable eight-game losing streak and 3-12 start with an eight-game winning streak, only to turn around and lose eight of the next 11 (including five straight) capped by the 17-1 debacle on Sunday in Baltimore.
But there is something about the shoulder-chipped attitude in the clubhouse, in that most of the players have something to prove, whether it's that they belong in the majors, or that they should have gotten better offers or more playing time, or that they are on the verge of a big payday even though it's likely elsewhere.
While that could, especially if they start losing again, show up individually and make guys look selfish, to this point it still seems to be somewhat unifying toward team success.
"We're happy with how it's going right now," said closer Alex Colome. "People didn't think we'd have that strong of a team, but we're coming out here playing hard every day."
The challenge now is to do it more often, to stop making the mistakes that have doomed them previously, to show they can stay hot and avoid the cold spells, an immediate challenge as their next seven games are against the Angels (starting Thursday night in Anaheim) and Red Sox.
"I think the way we started and the way we bounced back after that kind of shows that however many games we happen to lose in a series, it's not the end of the world," said first baseman/DH C.J. Cron. "It would be nice to be a little bit more consistent. I think that's what we're trying to do around here. … Hopefully this is a building block and we can keep going.''
Playing without rightfielder Carlos Gomez and third baseman Matt Duffy, the Rays jumped out to a 3-0 lead cobbled from five productive at-bats in the first inning, added on when Cron hit his 10th homer, and scratched out another run in the fifth.
Leftfielder Denard Span keyed a huge double play in the first, and, aside from Mallex Smith's misadventure in center, they played a crisp game in the field.
Starter Jake Faria was done in as much by four walks and a hit batter as anything, but Chaz Roe cleaned up his mess in the fifth, Matt Andriese filled that multi-inning role perfectly with three dominant frames, and the previously struggling Colome converted his eighth straight save to close it.
"It's tough to do what we just did on the road against any team in major-league baseball,'' Cash said.
Unlike at other times this season, what they did was a very good thing.
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_Rays