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KC@TB: Hochevar fans seven in seven strong innings

ST. PETERSBURG -- One pitch, and it was no way to throw a birthday party.

Casey Kotchman belted the first pitch by Kansas City reliever Blake Wood over the center-field wall to give the Tampa Bay Rays a 2-1 victory over the Royals on Monday night at Tropicana Field.

Wood was marking -- celebrating was removed as the operative word -- his 26th birthday.

"It's unbelievable," Wood said. "It's the first time I've ever been walked off. I don't have a whole lot to say -- one pitch and that's all she wrote."

He had just entered the game with the score tied 1-1 after a masterful pitching duel between the Royals' Luke Hochevar and the Rays' Jeremy Hellickson.

"It was just up and out over," Wood said. "I was trying to get ahead, and 97 percent of the time that pitch gets fouled off. He hit a fly ball and he just got to it."

It was also the first walk-off home run of Kotchman's career. The second-leading hitter in the American League at .341, he also drove in the Rays' first run.

Oddly enough, Kotchman didn't think his game-winning blast was going over the wall.

"No, no chance," he said. "I thought it was going to be caught."

Only if center fielder Melky Cabrera had a jack-in-the-box glove.

The defeat continued a long litany of losses for Kansas City under the dome. The Royals are just 4-14 in the park since June 3, 2007.

Understandably, the Trop hasn't been Alex Gordon's favorite spot to visit over the years either. In 11 previous games here, he was hitless in 37 at-bats. That's right, 0-for-37, although he did manage four bases on balls.

So it was with great relief that Gordon began his latest venture into his personal chamber of horrors by crashing a double deep into left field against Hellickson to lead off the game. It got even better when, after Cabrera singled and Billy Butler flied out, Gordon scored on Eric Hosmer's half-swing blooper into left field.

"It was a trying-not-to-swing on a changeup and somehow it found my bat," Hosmer said.

Hochevar held that 1-0 lead, dodging danger in the second inning when Kotchman and B.J. Upton singled with one out. Hochevar ended the inning, though, with two strikeouts, giving him five whiffs in the first two innings to match Hellickson's total.

This hasn't been the most pleasant venue for Hochevar either. In two previous starts at the Trop, he was 0-2 with a big balloon ERA of 21.60, based on 16 earned runs in 6 2/3 innings.

Yet he took a shutout into the seventh inning, although he emerged with the score tied, 1-1.

Ben Zobrist drew a one-out walk, took second as Hochevar threw a pitch into the dirt that got away from catcher Manny Pina, and scored on Kotchman's lined single to center.

"That was a bad pitch," Hochevar said. "I was trying to come in and I missed by a foot and a half."

He didn't make many bad pitches as he worked his fifth straight strong game since the All-Star break. He's 3-0 with a 2.18 ERA since then.

"This is who he is," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "Since the All-Star break, he's been unbelievably good."

Hochevar has had isolated brilliant games in previous seasons, but he's beginning to feel the transition to consistent success.

"I've always believed it," Hochevar said. "And it has happened, but not on a regular basis."

In this game, Hochevar finished with seven strikeouts, giving up two walks and five hits in his seven innings.

"He was really good," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "The ball was moving all over the place from where we were standing on the side. ... I can see why he was drafted so high a couple of years ago and why they like him so much."

Hellickson departed during the eighth when, with one out, he issued successive walks to Butler and Hosmer. Ex-Royals right-hander Joel Peralta took over and Jeff Francoeur hit a broken-bat line drive that third baseman Evan Longoria stabbed behind the bag. Trying for a double play, however, Longoria's throw got away from Kotchman and pinch-runner Chris Getz reached third and Hosmer second on the error. However, Peralta got the third out as Johnny Giavotella popped up.

Aaron Crow worked a scoreless eighth for the Royals and closer Kyle Farnsworth notched a perfect ninth for the Rays.

Just ahead was Kotchman's home run that won't be in Wood's mental scrapbook as a birthday bash to remember.

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