KANSAS CITY -- Not being able to protect a lead never registered on the Rays' list of concerns entering the 2013 season.
After all, they were a team built on pitching and defense. In theory, if they could scratch together a few runs and take a lead, wins would follow.
Things have not worked out as planned.
Wednesday night the Rays lost to the Royals, 9-8, in a game that saw them use three home runs to grab leads of 5-0 and 6-1, only to watch their scoring bonanza go for naught.
By losing, the Rays fell to 2-4 on the current road trip, while moving to 12-15 on the season. Ten of those losses came after the Rays held a lead and let it get away.
"We just can't keep doing this," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "We've given up way too many leads this year. We actually did a lot of things well. We had another good offensive night, and to have our pitching come a part is really unusual for us. Overall, we have to do a lot of things better. But we have to maintain leads. That's what we normally do."
Scoring wasn't a problem for either team Wednesday night. Unfortunately for the Rays, they did most of their scoring early, while the Royals stormed ahead during a five-run sixth to take a three-run lead that would ultimately prove to be enough to seal their victory.
Jake McGee took over from starter Jeremy Hellickson to start the sixth with the Rays leading, 6-4. The Royals quickly cobbled together three singles to load the bases with one out. Billy Butler then lined a ball back to the mound that McGee knocked down. He managed to throw out Butler at first, but a run scored. The play happened so fast that McGee did not notice he could have thrown to catcher Jose Lobaton and gotten the forceout at the plate.
"It was kind of like a natural reaction after the ball came back so quick," McGee said. "I just kind of grabbed the ball and just wanted to make sure I got an out no matter what. If I rush too much going home, then two runs are scoring. At that point, I got an out at first. There were two outs, and we were still up by one."
Eric Hosmer followed by hitting a ball to Yunel Escobar that the shortstop could not handle, and the tying run scored. Originally ruled an error, the it was changed to an infield hit after the game.
Tampa Bay's misfortunes continued when Lorenzo Cain blooped an RBI single into left before Jeff Francoeur singled through the middle off Kyle Farnsworth to drive home two more and give the Royals a 9-6 lead.
"There's not a whole lot you can do there, either -- just two well-placed hits," Maddon said. "I mean, you can't really say the pitching was bad there. It was a bouncer up the middle and a blooper to left field. ... They had good baseball luck tonight, we did not."
Tampa Bay jumped out to a 6-1 lead in the fourth, fueled largely by solo home runs by Matt Joyce, Ben Zobrist and Luke Scott. But Kansas City never sacked their bats.
Former Rays infielder Elliot Johnson hit a homer in the third off Hellickson to give the Royals their first run. Hellickson escaped further damage when he got an inning-ending double play with the bases loaded.
However, Hellickson's luck didn't hold.
Alex Gordon singled home Francoeur in the fourth, and Cain tripled home a run, and then scored on Mike Moustakas' sacrifice fly in the fifth to cut the Rays' lead to 6-4.
"We didn't feel like we were really out of it, because he wasn't really one-two-threeing us at all," Johnson said. "We were putting together good at-bats, and we were threatening. After I hit the homer, that inning we threatened, and after that we started tacking 'em on."
Hellickson allowed four earned runs in five innings to take a no-decision in his sixth start of the season.
"Defense and offense came to play tonight and I didn't," Hellickson said. "It was as simple as that."
The last time the Rays lost a five-run lead was on May 1, 2011, in a 6-5 loss to the Angels.
"It's a little bit uncharacteristic of us to give up leads like this," McGee said. "But I think we're going to bounce back, and things are going to go our way."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.