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TB@KC: Chen strikes out five over seven strong frames

KANSAS CITY -- Now here's a nice fit for the Royals -- tight pitching and loose hitting.

It's worked wonders against the Tampa Bay Rays, who lost a second straight game to the Royals, 8-2, on Tuesday night with Bruce Chen pitching seven strong innings and Yuniesky Betancourt and Jeff Francoeur hitting big home runs.

First, the pitching. Chen fell behind early, 2-0, then emulated Luke Hochevar's shutout workmanship in the series-opening victory on Monday.

"I tried to keep up with Luke," Chen said. "He's been on fire and pitching is contagious. Hopefully, we'll put a bunch of good starts together."

Chen entertained the 25,982 fans at Kauffman Stadium with his usual array of -- well, let Royals manager Ned Yost describe it.

"He did exactly what Bruce does," Yost said. "He's such a good big league pitcher, because he changes speeds very effectively, he throws strikes, he's on the attack, different arm angles, different locations, keeps hitters off-balance really well."

Second, the hitting. For the third straight game, Kansas City scored eight runs and, though it lost Sunday to St. Louis, the bats are burning.

"It just takes one outing where somebody pops the ball and it just turns everything around, and that's what happened in that game against St. Louis Sunday," Yost said. "We had four homers, guys started relaxing, started putting better swings on the ball. And it's not the pitching. We've faced two darn good pitchers the last two nights and St. Louis' top guy."

The Rays got a first-inning run when catcher Brayan Pena, after taking an on-target throw from center fielder Jarrod Dyson, lost his grip on the ball and it slipped away -- just before the Rays' Carlos Pena blasted into him in front of the plate. Pena was charged with an error.

"I was trying to transfer the ball to secure it with my hand and I took my eye off the baseball, and it cost me," Pena said.

In the second inning, Chen got a pitch up to Brooks Conrad, who drove it over the left-field wall for a 2-0 lead. But there was trouble ahead for Rays right-hander Chris Archer, making just his second Major League start.

Dyson led off the Royals' third with a single and, when Alcides Escobar's shot went off the center-field wall, Dyson was held at third base. However, shortstop Sean Rodriguez's relay throw shot past home plate and the speedy Dyson revved up again and scored while Escobar reached third base.

It was a miserable couple of minutes for Rodriguez. He promptly booted Alex Gordon's grounder for a second error as Escobar scored. Archer ran the count to 2-2 on Betancourt and he pounded a two-homer over the left-field wall for a 4-2 Royals lead.

That's the way it stayed until the eighth, when the Royals came up with another four-run inning, this time against reliever Brandon Gomes. Gordon opening the assault with a double, Mike Moustakas was walked intentionally and Billy Butler drilled an RBI single.

Up came Francoeur, who pounded a 2-2 pitch more than 400 feet to left field for a three-run homer.

"We've been struggling offensively before these last three games and it's big for us to get going like that," Butler said. "We weren't going to stay down like that all year."

Who knows what causes a team to suddenly start brandishing bats like a bunch of Babe Ruths?

"That's the $64 million question. It just goes in cycles," Yost said.

Ah, but the Royals' pitching the last two nights against the Rays has been something to behold. And, hey, maybe the Royals' hitters have been inspired.

"I came from Atlanta and I grew up watching it, and I love it when pitching does what pitching does," Francoeur said. "What Luke did last night and watching Bruce do it tonight, it motivates you. They're quick, they're efficient, working the count, getting guys out quick and, for us as an offense, you kind of click when that happens."

Now the Royals have a shot at a sweep in Wednesday afternoon's homestand finale.

"It's funny," Francoeur said, "we got swept by Pittsburgh, came back and swept Milwaukee at home. Got swept by St. Louis and, we don't want to get ahead of ourselves, but it'd be nice to get this one [Wednesday], for sure."

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