ST. PETERSBURG — Desmond Jennings summed up his recent surge at the plate this way:
"You have phases where the ball can't miss your bat," he said. "It's just been like that lately."
That has certainly been the case for Jennings and the Rays, who carried their offensive outburst from their recent West Coast trip back home in Monday night's 5-1 win over the Royals in front of 9,913 at Tropicana Field.
Jennings had two extra-base hits for the Rays, who with Evan Longoria, Matt Joyce and Carlos Peña out of the lineup racked up double-digit hits. Tampa Bay (68-54), coming off an 8-2 road trip, has won five straight, tying a major-league record for the most after being on the losing end of a perfect game, staying atop the wild-card race and moving within four games of the Yankees in the American League East.
"There's always that danger of 'West Coast hangover,' and coming off a great series like that, there's certainly a danger of having a letdown," rightfielder Sam Fuld said. "But I think we were aware of the risk, and it helped we basically had all the bench guys in the lineup there today and you're always going to get good energy out of guys like that."
Fuld delivered a spark with two great catches and two hits, including stretching a single into a double in the eighth, then lighting the Captain Morgan lamp as the player of the game.
"Sammy does everything right," manager Joe Maddon said.
Maddon said it was right-hander Jeremy Hellickson who "set the tone" with another strong performance, allowing just one run over seven innings in picking up his first win at the Trop since May 16.
Hellickson got ahead of hitters, and had a curve that Maddon said was his best of the year.
"Once we got him a lead he settled right in and pretty much took over the game," first baseman Jeff Keppinger said.
Hellickson's biggest jam came in the sixth, when Alcides Escobar led off by reaching on a throwing error by shortstop Elliot Johnson. After Alex Gordon walked, Billy Butler appeared to hit into a double play, but second baseman Ryan Roberts' throw ripped through the webbing of Keppinger's glove at first base.
"I just broke it," Keppinger said. "I know (Royals first baseman Eric) Hosmer got on base later in the game and he's like, 'Man, that happens to me every two weeks, so be prepared for it to happen again.' "
Keppinger, who said it had never happened to him before, had to scramble, first borrowing Ben Zobrist's outfield glove then Luke Scott's before his got stitched up. It came in handy, as the Rays turned a 5-4-3 double play to end the inning.
Hellickson, who was the hard-luck loser in Felix Hernandez's perfect game Wednesday in Seattle, finished with his second straight seven-inning outing.
"Really good changeup," Royals manager Ned Yost said of Hellickson. "I mean, really good changeup."
The offense got contributions from all through the lineup, with Jennings, Fuld, Jose Lobaton and Johnson each picking up two hits and Keppinger a solo homer to top the Royals, who had swept the Rays earlier this season in Kansas City.
"They took it to us at their place," Keppinger said. "So we kind of owe it back."
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected]