Royals head to break on high note

Royals take finale from Rays

KANSAS CITY -- OK, boys, take a break for a few days. You've been working pretty hard lately, what with all those victories flowing in.

The Royals eased into the All-Star break on Sunday with a 12-4 win -- their ninth in 13 games -- over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. They pause for four days with 38-50 record, just 12 games under .500.

The 38 victories is their second-best break total in seven years; only the 51 wins by the front-running 2003 club was better.

What's next? Climbing the tall ladder in the American League Central, arguably the toughest division in baseball?

"You never want to think you're out of it and that's kind of the way we're thinking," rookie Alex Gordon said. "Baseball is a weird game, and we can put on a win streak here and some teams can lose so, hopefully, we can continue."

Of course once the break ends, the Royals must play on the grounds of some very tough teams -- Cleveland, Boston and Detroit.

"We're playing good, though," manager Buddy Bell said. "I didn't think we played great. We won these last two games but we've got to play better against those three teams than we did the last two days."

The Royals seemed floating toward victory on Sunday as 14,726 fans basked in the sun at Kauffman Stadium. They were ahead, 6-2, after some tight pitching by Jorge De La Rosa and a three-run double by Tony Pena.

However, in the eighth, that lead nearly collapsed of sunstroke.

Two heaven-seeking fly balls, lofted by Carlos Pena and Ty Wigginton, each plummeted toward right fielder Mark Teahen. He didn't see either one. They thudded onto the ground for back-to-back doubles.

Then reliever Zack Greinke, who hadn't allowed a run in his previous five appearances, gave up a double -- this one a screamer to left -- the fourth hit by Jonny Gomes. Both runners romped home and the Royals were up just 6-4.

"Both of them were in the sun," Teahen said. "There's no real excuse. I've got to figure out a way to get around and catch it."

Outfield neighbor David DeJesus suggested that Teahen get to the side of the ball, avoiding the direct glare of the late-afternoon sun.

"Luckily it didn't hurt us in the game, although it cost Greinke some runs," Teahen said. "But we took care of it as a team the next inning."

Did they ever.

Six runs worth on six hits, including two-run doubles by Ross Gload and Gordon. Pena chipped in his third double for his fourth RBI.

Teahen contributed a single, avoiding for the most part hoots from the fans for his misadventures in the field.

"Hopefully, by playing hard for a few years now, I can screw up a couple of times and nobody kills me," he said.

So that big inning really clinched things.

"Oh, yeah, but our bullpen has been going great, so they probably would've protected it anyway, though," Pena said.

Quite possibly. David Riske replaced De La Rosa and retired all four batters he faced. Greinke should have had a one-two-three inning instead of being charged with two runs. And Octavio Dotel worked a scoreless ninth.

De La Rosa was rewarded with his third straight victory. In those games his ERA is 2.41.

So it was off to the break on a happy note, a ripple of victories in the Royals' wake.

"We've been playing good lately and you've just got to take this break, rest a little bit and get ready for the next half," Pena said.

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