ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Its a common-enough experience. A summer trip every year you just dread. Maybe its work-related. More likely, its some family obligation. But whatever it is, you just know, before you go, youd rather schedule a root canal.
By BOB DUTTON
The Kansas City Star
For the Royals, for more than five years now, that place is Tropicana Field.
The Royals opened a three-game series Monday night at the Trop with a 5-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays and it was all so familiar.
It didnt matter that the Royals just completed a rousing homestand, are on their best sustained run of the season, or even that they swept the Rays when the teams met for three games in late June at Kauffman Stadium.
The Trop put a stop to all of that. Well, the Trop and Rays pitcher Jeremy Hellickson.
We knew he had a good changeup, said left fielder Alex Gordon, who had two of the Royals seven hits. Thats what we were looking for. He just mixed it up and kept us off-balance enough to pitch a good game.
Yes, to be fair, the Rays are playing well, too, at the moment 12 victories in their last 14 games. But would it have mattered? The Royals are 4-22 since June 2007 while playing in baseballs only remaining non-opening dome.
Coming into this park here, manager Ned Yost said, its a tough place to play. It takes you a game to get used to the surroundings and see the ball. At least thats always been my experience.
Hellickson evened his record at 8-8 by breezing through seven innings.
I thought I was really good, he admitted. I just threw strikes for the most part. We got some runs early, and thats always nice.
The Rays backed Hellickson with an 11-hit attack with much of the damage coming from the eight, nine and one hitters against Royals starter Will Smith.
The No. 8 guy, José Lobaton, had two hits, a walk, a run and an RBI; No. 9 Elliot Johnson had two hits and an RBI; and leadoff man Desmond Jennings had a triple (before scoring on a wild pitch) and an RBI double.
All of that left Smith, 4-5, with his worst outing in seven starts since returning from Class AAA Omaha. He lasted just 32/3 innings before exiting after allowing four runs and eight hits.
After the first inning, Smith said, everything was just bad. No location. No breaking ball today, which really hurt. I was falling behind (in the count) too much. It just wasnt very good. I couldnt execute anything. You have those days, but you hate having them.
Reliever Everett Teaford served up Jeff Keppingers one-out homer in the fifth, which ended the scoring. Former Royals J.P. Howell and Kyle Farnsworth and doesnt that sting just a bit? closed out Hellicksons victory.
The Royals lost for just the fourth time in 13 games.
Want a hopeful sign? There was at least one.
Gordon went two for three with a walk and drove in the Royals only run. Thats better than it sounds. He entered the series with just two hits in 53 previous career at-bats at the Trop.
So who knows? Things change.
Thats a good joke, Gordon said, but Im not thinking about that. Im just going out there and trying to get hits. We just had a tough day of hitting (against) Hellickson. He had our number.
Tampa Bay opened the scoring Smith issued a one-out walk to Sean Rodriguez in the second. Rodriguez came around on successive two-out singles by Lobaton and Johnson scoring before Gordon threw out Lobaton at third on Johnsons single.
The Royals scored their only run after starting the third with singles by Johnny Giavotella and Jarrod Dyson. First Alcides Escobar fouled off two bunts with the corners charging and virtually the entire left side of the infield open.
Often this season, Escobar bunted on his own. Not this time.
Thats me, Yost said. I know Hellickson is going to be tough. Im hoping we can keep the runs down on their side. Im playing for two runs there.
We wouldnt have bunted there with a runner on first, but (we) had a chance to pick up two with three and four coming up. We wanted to take a shot at it.
It didnt work and, when Tampa Bay then repositioned its infield at a normal alignment, Escobar grounded into a double play.
Even so, the Royals got one run, and pulled even, when second baseman Ryan Roberts couldnt handle Gordons grounder to the right side. It was scored a single.
The tie didnt last.
Jennings opened the bottom of the inning with a triple off the top of the right-field wall. Lorenzo Cain caromed to the ground after colliding with the walls padding in pursuit of the ball, but Dyson got the ball quickly back to the infield.
Jennings still reached third without a throw and scored when Smith bounced a fastball past catcher Salvy Perez for a wild pitch with B.J. Upton at the plate. Upton then walked and stole second, but Smith avoided further damage.
Rodriguez started the Rays fourth with a double before the eight-nine-one trifecta finished Smith. A one-out single by Lobaton, the eighth hitter, made it 3-1, and Johnson followed with a single.
Command was off for (Smith) tonight, Yost said. He was either off the plate or down the middle. You go back and look at all of the replays on the base hits, when they flashed them up there (on the video board), it was something down the middle.
Jennings then plugged the left-center gap with what seemed a likely two-run double. But Perez threw out his left leg, blocked the plate and tagged Johnson after taking a throw from Escobar.
It was bang-bang and, perhaps, Johnson touched the plate before Perez made the tag but it was terrific stuff regardless. Another hopeful sign, maybe? Two more days to find out.
Were playing well, Yost said, but its a tough place to play, and they are playing very, very well. Their starting pitching is outstanding. We come in and face Hellickson, (David) Price and (James) Shields. Thats a tough go.