Tampa Bay rolled past Kansas City, 8-2, on Friday night, knocking out starter Sidney Ponson in the fifth inning as 26,596 fans watched on Hip-Hop Night at Tropicana Field.
"I put us in the hole right away," Ponson said. "I didn't pitch good today. I was basically down the middle, and that's a recipe for disaster."
Carlos Pena belted a three-run homer off Ponson in the first inning. The ball soared down the left-field line and and glanced off the foul pole, Pena's 26th blast this year. Odd twist for a left-handed batter who's defended by a right-field shift.
"Down and away, he went with it," Ponson said. "He doesn't pull it like he normally does."
Pena has hit Ponson well -- 6-for-14 (.429) with two homers and six RBIs in his career. And Royals manager Trey Hillman viewed the home run pitch as too high.
"[Ponson] left it up, and the way things are rolling, no way it was going to be three or four feet foul," Hillman said. "It was going to hit the pole, and it did."
Things got worse.
Pat Burrell's triple and Jason Bartlett's double produced one run in the fourth. And there were three more runs in the fifth that included a run-scoring triple by Ben Zobrist and RBI singles by Burrell and Gabe Gross.
The latter hit came off Robinson Tejeda, who relieved Ponson with one out.
The Rays' Dioner Navarro led off the eighth with a home run to right field off Roman Colon.
"From a pitching standpoint, we left pitches in a slug position and they slugged it," Hillman said.
Indeed, the Rays collected three triples, two homers and a double among their 12 hits, eight of which came off Ponson.
Ponson's record fell to 1-7 and his ERA rose to 7.36.
"I just pitched bad today. It's kind of hard to come back from 7-1, it doesn't matter how good a team you have."
But the Royals haven't been very good this month, finishing July with a 7-19 record, and at 40-62 with three straight losses, they're 22 games under the .500 mark.
Left-hander David Price, the Rays' highly regarded rookie, gave up one run in the second inning. Alberto Callaspo led off with a single, extending his hitting streak to 13 games, and got around on Brayan Pena's single and forceout.
After that, Price was in control for the rest of his seven-inning stint, which puzzled Hillman.
"His slider at times was sharp," Hillman said. "He didn't even use the curveball much. He made it work with a 90-, 91-mph fastball, but he missed location a lot. And when a guy's scuffling with hitting the mitt, we should be able to square it up more often than not."
Price gave up the one run on five hits and two walks with three strikeouts. At 4-4 overall this season, he improved his record to 4-1 at The Trop in his first career outing against Kansas City.
"It was just one of those nights where everything goes your way," Price said.
Lance Cormier took over for the Rays in the eighth inning and Joe Nelson worked the ninth. Nelson, who ended the 2006 season as the Royals' closer, gave them a second run, making a wild throw past first base after grabbing Callaspo's comebacker. Callaspo wound up at third on the error and scored on Brayan Pena's sacrifice fly.
But that was that, and the Royals have yet to beat the defending American League champions. They have three more games to give it a try.
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.