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Rays power past KC in WC race, win series

MLB.com

KANSAS CITY -- Just when the Rays needed it, they relied on their two biggest thumpers -- Steven Souza Jr. and Logan Morrison -- to deliver home runs in the fifth inning that propelled them to a 5-3 win over the reeling Royals on Wednesday night at Kauffman Stadium.

"LoMo and Souza's home runs, those were pretty towering shots," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "All around, a really good day."

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KANSAS CITY -- Just when the Rays needed it, they relied on their two biggest thumpers -- Steven Souza Jr. and Logan Morrison -- to deliver home runs in the fifth inning that propelled them to a 5-3 win over the reeling Royals on Wednesday night at Kauffman Stadium.

"LoMo and Souza's home runs, those were pretty towering shots," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "All around, a really good day."

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The Rays stayed 3 1/2 games back of the Twins for the second American League Wild Card spot. The Royals, who have lost six of seven, dropped four games behind the Twins.

Video: TB@KC: Morrison drives a solo home run to right field

"Things haven't been going right as of late," Royals center fielder Lorenzo Cain said. "But all you can do is keep playing hard, keep battling, hope for a better outcome. It's not where we want to be. But just keep grinding and hopefully things will change."

The Rays' bullpen delivered four scoreless innings, including two from Steve Cishek. Alex Colome picked up his 40th save. Cishek worked a 1-2-3 sixth and returned to pitch the seventh, setting the Royals down in order to complete 15 consecutive appearances without allowing a run since joining the Rays.

Video: TB@KC: Colome strikes out the side to earn the save

Rays right-hander Jake Odorizzi, a former Royal, gave his team five serviceable innings, giving up four hits and three runs while walking three and striking out three.

Royals left-hander Jason Vargas continued his struggles, giving up five runs, including three home runs, over six innings. He has given up 22 runs in his last 26 1/3 innings and the All-Star's ERA rose to 3.87.

"It's just frustrating because I felt really good," Vargas said. "I felt really good about what we were doing. Tough one to swallow."

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Go-ahead blast: After the Royals tied the score at 3, the Rays answered in the fifth with one when Souza jumped on a first-pitch curve from Vargas and hammered it into the left-field corner for his 29th home run. The ball traveled a projected 417 feet with an exit velocity of 109 mph, according to Statcast™.

"Any time you put runs up, you hope to hold that lead, but they came back, obviously, and tied it up," Souza said. "Regaining the lead right away was crucial. Baseball's a game of momentum and it shifted the momentum back. ... So those homers were crucial."

"First first-pitch curveball I'd thrown to a right-hander all night," Vargas said. "You don't usually bank on that. Tip your hat. He went up there ready to swing."

Two-hit Whit strikes again: Whit Merrifield, whose homer on Tuesday night snapped the Royals' franchise-record 45 consecutive scoreless innings streak, was back at it in the finale. Merrifield, who singled in the first and stole his 26th base, blasted a three-run home run, his 17th, in the third inning. Merrifield hit a 1-0 cutter from Odorizzi and sent it a projected 392 feet, according to Statcast™.

"We didn't have a lot of opportunities," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "Whit with the big three-run homer, but outside of that, not much going on."

QUOTABLE
"Special. It's a special performance. He's a special player. What he does to close out ballgames, whether it's seven, eight, nine or the teeth of their lineup. ... The way that he buys into whatever we ask him to do. It makes it real easy to manage guys like that and get that team first concept. And Alex really sets the tone." -- Cash, on Colome picking up his 40th save

WHAT'S NEXT
Rays: Following Thursday's off-day, left-hander Blake Snell (2-6, 4.29 ERA) will get the nod at 8:10 p.m. ET on Friday when the Rays open a three-game series against the White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field. Snell had a rough beginning to his season, which prompted him to be optioned to Triple-A Durham to straighten things out. Now he's on a roll, pitching to a 3.31 ERA over his last nine starts.

Royals: After an off-day on Thursday, right-hander Jason Hammel (6-10, 4.76) and the Royals will open a crucial three-game set at 7:10 p.m. CT on Friday against the Twins at Target Field. In his last start on Saturday against the Indians, Hammel was perfect for 5 1/3 innings, but he gave up four runs over 6 2/3 innings in a 4-0 loss.

Watch every out-of-market regular-season game live on MLB.TV.

Jeffrey Flanagan has covered the Royals since 1991, and for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter @FlannyMLB.

Bill Chastain has covered the Rays for MLB.com since 2004.