By Bill Chastain and Michael Kolligian
ST. PETERSBURG -- Kendrys Morales' two-run home run off the catwalk in center field and a quality start by Edinson Volquez were all the Royals needed to take a 3-2 win over the Rays Friday night at Tropicana Field.
The Royals (79-49) lead the American League Central Division by 13 games over Minnesota with the best record in the AL, while the Rays (63-65) fell to 1-3 on the homestand and trail the Rangers for the second AL Wild Card spot by 3 1/2 games.
Morales' home run came in the third when he reached the C-ring in center for his 15th home run of the season. And Volquez did what he needed to do, holding the Rays to two runs (one earned) on six hits in 6 2/3 innings to effectively bridge the gap to the back end of the Royals' vaunted bullpen.
James Loney doubled home the Rays' first run in the second inning and Daniel Nava scored the Rays' second run in the third when Royals left fielder Paulo Orlando dropped John Jaso's fly ball.
"We just keep plugging," said Royals manager Ned Yost moments after a victory that moved his club 30 games over .500. "I knew that they were a very special group of guys but what's exceeded my expectations is the way that they're able to sustain their energy every single day, every single pitch, every single inning of every single game. That's very hard to do over the grind of 162 games. That's been very very impressive to me."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Morales Boost:The Royals' designated hitter continued to make a strong case for Comeback Player of the Year honors with a solid performance Friday night. Morales' third-inning blast with Ben Zobrist aboard gave him 15 home runs on the season -- after hitting only eight in 2014 -- and 89 RBIs, more than double last year's total (42) and the most by a Royals player since Billy Butler's 107 in 2012. More >
Failure to launch:For the second consecutive night, the Rays' starter could not get through the fifth inning. Erasmo Ramirez allowed two earned runs on six hits in 4 1/3 innings. On Thursday, Drew Smyly also lasted just 4 1/3 innings in the Rays' 5-4 win over the Twins.
"I thought Erasmo battled really well early on," said Rays manager Keviin Cash. "Maybe he wasn't as sharp as we've seen him pretty consistently. It seemed like he was trying to make that perfect pitch and couldn't quite make it. But saying that, he gave up two earned runs. So he still gave us an opportunity."
Volquez victorious: The Royals' right-hander bounced back nicely from Sunday's shaky performance in Boston, when he allowed six earned runs and nine hits -- both season highs -- in 6 2/3 innings. Volquez now boasts a career 3-0 record and 2.16 ERA against the Rays, and leads the Royals in wins (12), innings pitched (165 1/3), strikeouts (124) and quality starts (15).
Double trouble:With one out in the second inning and the score knotted at 1, Loney, who had doubled home Asdrubal Cabrera with the tying run, broke from second base on a soft liner to left by Kevin Kiermaier. Orlando raced in from left field and snared the ball on the fly as Loney was nearing third base, then flipped to Zobrist at second for an easy double play, taking the Rays out of a potential big inning.
"You have to get to their starter because when you get behind, their bullpen is quite a weapon." -- Cash, on the Royals' bullpen
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
When the Rays' Brandon Guyer got hit by a pitch with two out in the seventh, it was the 18th time he has "taken one for the team" this season. That tied Guyer with Sean Rodriguez (2011) for the club record.
Cash was ejected in the third inning after arguing with first-base umpire Brian O'Nora following the third out of the third inning. With two outs, Logan Forsythe grounded to Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar and Forsythe appeared to beat the throw to first base. But O'Nora called him out, prompting Cash to spring onto the field to protest. Replays indicated that Forsythe had beaten the throw, but the Rays had no challenges left. Cash briefly went jaw to jaw with O'Nora before getting thrown out of a game for the third time this season. More >
Before the game the Rays honored Zobrist, who spent nine seasons with Tampa Bay, with a video tribute. The two-time All-Star returned to Tropicana Field for the first time since being traded to Oakland in the offseason. Now with the Royals after the A's traded him on July 28, Zobrist went 2-for-4 with a double and a run scored. Zobrist's wife, Julianna, sang the national anthem.
With one out in the first inning, Zobrist hit a chopper up the middle that Cabrera barehanded and fired from shortstop to first for an apparent out. Yost challenged the call by O'Nora, and after a 50-second delay, the call was overturned. Zobrist was credited with a base hit.
In the bottom half of the first, Nava was called out at second base on a tag play. The Rays challenged and the call on the field stood after a 1-minute, 20-second delay.
The umpires got into the act with a crew-chief review in the top of the third when the call on the field was home run. After a three-minute, 16-second delay, the call on the field was confirmed that the ball hit by Morales had hit the C-Ring at Tropicana Field. As per the park's ground rules, that made it a home run.
Royals: Kris Medlen (2-0, 3.10 ERA) will take the ball on Saturday when the Royals and Rays resume their three-game series at Tropicana Field at 5:10 p.m. CT. The veteran right-hander made his first start of the season last Monday at Kauffman Stadium and picked up the win with a quality outing, allowing three runs in six innings while striking out six and walking none in an 8-3 victory over the Orioles.
Rays: Jake Odorizzi (6-6, 3.02) starts for the Rays at 7:10 p.m. ET in the midst of a stretch of five straight no-decisions. He has made 14 quality starts and failed to win 10 of them. The former Royal will make his fourth career appearance against his old team. He is 0-2 with a 6.91 ERA. He last faced them on July 7, 2014.