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Seven in a row for surging Rays

Seven in a row for surging Rays

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ST. PETERSBURG -- Opposing teams might want to reconsider playing a shift against Carlos Pena or tugging on Superman's cape.

Those approaches backfired for the Royals in Sunday's 9-2 Rays win in front of a crowd of 20,587 at Tropicana Field, as Pena had three hits and Evan Longoria hit his 16th homer.

It was Tampa Bay's season-high seventh consecutive victory and 11th in its past 12. The win was also the Rays' 36th at Tropicana Field, thanks to a 32-6 home stretch since April 22.

When Pena stepped into the batter's box to lead off the second inning, the Royals greeted him with the shift that has become familiar to the Rays' first baseman and exacted its toll on his batting average. So what did Pena do? He pushed a bunt towards third that would have made Ty Cobb blush.

"I thought it was a great play," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "I was very pleased with it."

Pena went on to score to cut the Royals' 2-0 lead in half.

Perhaps more relaxed in the third -- and, with runners on second and third, not facing a shift -- Pena ripped a double down the right-field line to put the Rays up, 3-2, with Longoria about to take his second turn at the plate.

Royals starter Luke Hochevar had hit the Rays' resident Superman near the head in his first at-bat. So the next at-bat brought up an interesting question: Would Longoria wilt or bristle?

Longoria answered that question with a drive over the left-field fence to give the Rays a 5-2 lead.

"I definitely wasn't thinking home run," said Longoria, one of five players selected on Sunday for the American League Final Vote ballot.

"I go about every at-bat the same way. I knew it wasn't a purpose pitch; he's trying to throw in. I've been diving in over the plate a little more than I want to, so I'm sure he was just trying to get me off. And he just made a mistake in my next at-bat."

James Shields (7-5) started for the Rays and surrendered two runs in the second before raining zeroes on the Royals for the remainder of the afternoon. The 26-year-old right-hander allowed just four hits and a walk while striking out eight in seven innings.

"It's a lot easier to pitch when you get some runs early," Shields said. "It makes [the starters' lives] a little easier."

Shields improved to 5-1 with a 2.12 ERA at home this season.

"We've been pitching really well," Shields said. "I'm just trying to stay up with everybody else. It's good for us to have a little competition as far as that goes."

Meanwhile, Rays hitters spent the game pounding Royals pitching for 13 hits -- six for extra bases, including Gabe Gross' seventh home run of the season and B.J. Upton's two-run double. The Rays have outscored their opponents 38-15 in the six games of the current homestand.

"Regardless of what we did offensively, it always starts with starting pitching," Maddon said.

And starting pitching success is starting to help all aspects of the Rays' game.

"It helps our defense, it helps our offense," Longoria said. "With what the starters are doing, they are so solid."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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