ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – The Kansas City Royals opened a seven-game road trip on a high note before Jeremy Hellickson put a quick stop to it Monday night.
Hellickson pitched seven strong innings for his first home win in three months and the Tampa Bay Rays won 5-1, handing the Royals only their fourth loss in 13 games.
"We're playing well, but it's a tough place to play and they're playing very, very well," said Royals manager Ned Yost of the Rays, who have won five straight.
"Their starting pitching's outstanding, and we come in and face Hellickson and (David) Price and (James) Shields. That's a tough go of it, and coming into this park, it takes you a game to kind of get used to the surroundings and see the ball."
That was particularly true of Alex Gordon, who had two of the Royals' six hits. Gordon came into the game hitting 2 for 53 at Tropicana Field.
"We knew (Hellickson) had a good changeup and that's what we were looking for and he mixed it up, kept us off-balance," said Gordon, who drove in Kansas City's only run with a single in the third inning.
Hellickson (8-8) allowed one run and six hits in ending a stretch of seven consecutive winless starts at home, dating to a 2-1 victory over Boston on May 16.
The Rays went ahead 4-1 in the fourth on Jose Labaton's RBI single and a run-scoring double from Desmond Jennings off Will Smith (4-5).
Smith lasted just 3 2-3 innings, giving up four runs and eight hits. The left-hander had won his previous two starts, allowing two runs over seven innings in games against both Baltimore and Oakland.
"After the first inning, I was just bad," Smith said. "No location, no breaking ball today, which really hurt. I was falling behind too much. You have those days but you hate having 'em."
Hellickson worked out of a two-on, no-out jam in the sixth. The right-hander appeared to have induced a double-play grounder from Billy Butler, but second baseman Ryan Roberts' throw after recording an out at second looked as if it broke through the webbing on first baseman Jeff Keppinger's glove and wound up behind the bag.
Unfazed, Hellickson then got an inning-ending double-play from Salvador Perez.
Hellickson was the losing pitcher in his last start — despite allowing one run over seven innings — last Wednesday against Seattle when Felix Hernandez threw the Mariners' first perfect game.
"I thought I was really good," Hellickson said. "Got ahead of guys, curveball was pretty good. Just threw strikes for the most part."
Tampa Bay reliever J.P. Howell worked a scoreless eighth to extend his team-record scoreless streak to 25 2-3 innings. Kyle Farnsworth got the final three outs in a non-save situation.
Elliot Johnson put the Rays ahead 1-0 on a run-scoring single in the second. Jennings hit a third-inning triple and scored on Smith's wild pitch as Tampa Bay took a 2-1 lead.
Keppinger extended the Rays' advantage to 5-1 with a fifth-inning solo homer.
Kansas City tied it 1-all on Gordon's RBI infield single. The Royals completed a 5-1 homestand Sunday, which included a three-game sweep over the AL Central-leading Chicago White Sox this past weekend.
Notes: Rays manager Joe Maddon expects 3B Evan Longoria, who has been limited to DH since returning from a partially torn left hamstring on Aug. 7, will play defense later this week. Longoria was rested Monday night. ... Kansas City RHP Luke Hochevar (7-11) and Price (16-4) are Tuesday night's scheduled starters. Hochevar is 0-2 with an 11.20 ERA in three career road starts against the Rays. ... Tampa Bay DH Luke Scott (strained right oblique) could rejoin the team Tuesday.