Right-hander Jeremy Hellickson dealt the Royals their sixth straight loss at Tropicana Field, a drought dating back to 2010. This has not been a friendly venue for the Royals -- they're 22-40 at the Trop.
"We're playing well, but it's precisely true that it's a tough place to play, and they're playing very, very well," manager Ned Yost said. "Their starting pitching is outstanding. We come in and face Hellickson and [David] Price and [James] Shields, and that's a tough go. Coming in this park here, it's a tough place to play. It takes you a game to kind of get used to the surroundings and see the ball."
A positive note for the Royals and Alex Gordon surfaced early in the evening. In the third inning, Gordon got a single on a bouncer that went off second baseman Ryan Roberts and scored Johnny Giavotella.
That was Gordon's second hit of the game off Hellickson and, believe it or not, it matched his entire previous output at the Trop. Under the St. Pete dome, Gordon had struggled mightily, going just 2-for-53 in 15 previous games.
If Gordon can get two hits in one game at the Trop, maybe anything can happen here, even a KC victory.
"It's a good joke, but we just had a tough day hitting. Hellickson had our number," Gordon said.
Starting in 2007, Gordon went hitless in his first 37 at-bats at Tropicana. He finally snapped that skid with a double in his first chance last season, also against Hellickson.
"I'm not thinking about that. I'm just going out there trying to get hits, trying to help the team out," Gordon said. "I got it last year, so it's over now, and I'm moving on."
Rookie left-hander Will Smith had his first start in St. Pete terminated in the fourth inning.
"After the first inning, everything was just bad -- no location, no breaking ball today, which really hurt. Falling behind too much, just wasn't very good," Smith said. "Bad location, couldn't execute anything. You have those days, but you hate having them."
A walk to Sean Rodriguez and singles by Jose Lobaton and Elliot Johnson produced a run in the second inning, although on the scoring play, Lobaton was thrown out at third base by Gordon. In the third, Desmond Jennings tripled and scored on Smith's wild pitch.
The last four batters in the Rays' order and leadoff man Jennings kept tormenting Smith.
A two-run fourth included Rodriguez's double, singles by Lobaton and Johnson, and a double by Jennings. On the latter hit, Johnson tried to follow Lobaton home but was tagged out by catcher Salvador Perez, who blocked the sliding runner and tagged him.
Rays manager Joe Maddon questioned the call, but it stood as a play from Gordon to shortstop Alcides Escobar to Perez. So Gordon, in addition to two hits, had two assists -- the first AL left fielder to have two in one game this season. He has a total of 10 after leading the Majors last year with 20.
The double also resulted in Smith's removal in favor of another lefty, Everett Teaford.
"[Smith's] command was off tonight," Yost said. "He was either off the plate or down the middle. Go back and look at the replays of all the hits, and every time they flash one up there, it was something down the middle."
Hellickson, though, stayed sharp through seven innings.
"It was all Hellickson tonight," Yost said. "Really good changeup, backed up with a 92-, 93-mile-an-hour fastball that looks 98 when he's got that kind of changeup."
In the fifth, Teaford yielded a solo home run to Jeff Keppinger for the last Rays run. That was enough for Hellickson and two ex-Royals relievers, J.P. Howell and Kyle Farnsworth, who each contributed a scoreless inning.
"It all started with the pitching, and of course J.P. was once again wonderful," Maddon said.
Howell, traded to the Rays in a 2006 deal that brought outfielder Joey Gathright to the Royals, has a 2.62 ERA in 45 games this season. He also has thrown 25 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings, the longest active streak in the Majors.
It's just another thing going right for the Rays, who won their fifth straight game since falling victim to Felix Hernandez's perfect game in Seattle. They've scored 42 runs in those five wins.
"You couldn't do anything about how Felix was throwing the ball the other night," Hellickson said, "but it was nice to get some runs."