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KC@TB: Hellickson tosses seven frames of one-run ball

ST. PETERSBURG -- If the Rays had jet lag on Monday after their trip home from the West Coast, it sure didn't show.

Tampa Bay defeated Kansas City, 5-1, on Monday night at Tropicana Field in the opening game of a midweek series after playing the previous 10 days away from home.

The Rays have won five straight games since falling victim to Felix Hernandez's perfect game in Seattle, which ties the record for the longest winning streak coming immediately after being on losing end of a perfecto (set by the 1904 Athletics), according to ESPN Stats & Info.

"We played well," manager Joe Maddon said. "I think [starter Jeremy Hellickson] really set the tone. Helly was very good. He had a good fastball, a really good curve and, of course, always the changeup."

It was also a delightful homecoming for Hellickson, who had not won at home in more than three months, dating back to a win over Boston on May 16.

The righty earned the win after allowing just a single run over seven innings for the second straight start, this time on six hits and a walk to go with six strikeouts.

"I thought I got ahead of guys, [the] curveball was pretty good," Hellickson said. "I thought I threw strikes for the most part. ... We got some runs early, and that's always nice."

Maddon agreed that Hellickson's curveball was particularly effective, saying that it was among the best he's shown all season.

"He always has it. I'd like to see it more often," Maddon said. "I thought it was more in play against the righties tonight, which is nice, because it's more confusing to the hitter when he's got three things going like that. That may have been his best curve all year."

Strong pitching has been a factor in Tampa Bay's recent success, as the club has held opponents to one run or fewer in 13 of the last 26 games.

The offense also continued to roll, scoring five or more runs for the fifth straight game. Desmond Jennings, Jose Lobaton and Elliot Johnson each had two hits and an RBI to help pace the team.

Sam Fuld also recorded two hits while flashing the leather in right field.

"There's certainly that danger of having a letdown," Fuld said of not having any rest after playing on the West Coast. "We were aware of that risk. Basically, all of the bench guys were there in the lineup today. You're always going to get good energy out of guys like us who can thrive off any start we can get."

Tampa Bay got on the board first, with Sean Rodriguez drawing a one-out walk in the bottom of the second. After Fuld flied to center, Lobaton singled him to second. Johnson knocked a single of his own to bring in Rodriguez just before Lobaton was thrown out at third trying to advance, but the damage had been done, and the Rays were up, 1-0.

Kansas City responded in the top of the third, with Johnny Giavotella at third after Alcides Escobar grounded into a double play. Alex Gordon was able to come through, hitting a sharp grounder to second that Ryan Roberts couldn't snare, and Giavotella scored.

Jennings came back in the bottom of the inning, though, hitting a leadoff triple and scoring on a wild pitch by Royals starter Will Smith. The Rays added another the next inning, when Lobaton singled in Rodriguez, who'd led off the inning with a double.

Johnson kept the momentum going with his second single, and Jennings cranked a double to the left-field gap. Lobaton was able to score easily, but Johnson was tagged out at the plate. The inning finally ended with a groundout by B.J. Upton and the Rays holding a three-run lead.

Smith's day ended after 3 2/3 innings, charged with four runs on eight hits and two walks, with four strikeouts.

"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."

Jeff Keppinger joined the offensive party in the fifth inning, when he blasted a 2-1 pitch from Everett Teaford over the left-field wall to put Tampa Bay up four.

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