Kiermaier homers, makes presence felt in CF

Two-run shot gives Rays brief lead; arm strength helps quell Royals' rally

Kiermaier homers, makes presence felt in CF

ST. PETERSBURG -- The initial round of ovations had just ended for Kevin Kiermaier's defense a few minutes earlier, and now he was bringing the crowd of 24,372 at Tropicana Field to a blissful chaos. Mere moments after helping the Rays limit the Royals to two runs in the fourth, the outfielder's two-run homer in the bottom half of the inning put Tampa Bay ahead.

The blast, Kiermaier's sixth of the year, was a laser off starting pitcher Kris Medlen that quickly escaped over the wall in right-center field. It was also the last reason for unbridled enthusiasm for the home team in the Rays' 6-3 loss to Kansas City on Saturday.

"KK obviously had a big night and a huge hit for us to get us back the lead," manager Kevin Cash said. "We weren't able to hold it."

For the Rays, who have now lost six of seven and slipped 4 1/2 games behind the Rangers in the hunt for the second American League Wild Card spot, Kiermaier's performance has been one of the few bright spots during this six-game homestand, which concludes Sunday. The two-run homer, part of a 2-for-4 night, was the pinnacle of his individual performance, and he is 9-for-19 with a .500 on-base percentage, one triple and one homer during the stretch.

And this is just the end of a strong August. Kiermaier has a .321/.352/.417 slash line this month, and as he leads the Majors with a 3.9 defensive WAR, according to Baseball-Reference, he brings a balance of elite defense and better-than-solid offense. His 5.7 total WAR is seventh in the AL.

"Not trying to do too much up there has really helped me a lot," Kiermaier said. "I'm just seeing the ball. I've just been much better, and that's half the battle. You've got to see it to hit it."

Still, his contributions Saturday began with the glove. Just before Kiermaier belted the homer to give Tampa Bay its only lead of the game, he stopped a Royals rally at only two runs to keep the Rays in the game.

With no outs and runners on second and third, Kansas City brought the bottom third of its order to the plate with a 2-0 lead. Salvador Perez launched a fly ball to center, and Kiermaier set up behind it, took a hop and flung the ball home. Even though his throw sailed and pulled catcher Rene Rivera away from the plate, the threat of Kiermaier's arm caused Kendrys Morales to retreat to third.

Paulo Orlando lifted another fly ball to center in the next at-bat, and Morales didn't even think about scoring as starting pitcher Jake Odorizzi cut off Kiermaier's throw. The inning ended a batter later when Jarrod Dyson flied out to left.

Odorizzi escapes further damage

Kiermaier has 12 outfield assists this season, tied for most among Major League center fielders, and Friday he became the first player since Carlos Beltran with the Royals in 2001 to record a dozen triples and a dozen outfield assists in the same season.

"I'm just gonna try to stay locked in as long as I can to keep making contributions to this team," Kiermaier said.

David Wilson is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.