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08/11/2011 11:25 PM EDT
Niemann pitches Rays past Royals 4-1
TAMPA BAY 4, KANSAS CITY 1

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) -- The Tampa Bay Rays have momentum
heading into a week of important division games.

Jeff Niemann won his sixth consecutive decision, Ben Zobrist had
a two-run triple and the Rays completed a four-game sweep with a
4-1 victory over the Kansas City Royals on Thursday.

Tampa Bay starts a key six-game road trip against New York and
Boston on Friday night at Yankee Stadium. The Rays started the
day 8 1/2 games behind the AL wild-card leading Yankees and
trail AL East-leading Boston by 9 1/2 games.

"Playing in our division is always a gas, and going up there to
do it makes it even more fun," Rays manager Joe Maddon said.
"Another good test for us. We're trying to climb back in this
thing one step at a time. It's up to us."

Rays left-hander David Price (9-10) will face Yankees' ace CC
Sabathia (16-6) in a matchup of All-Stars in the opener of a
three-game series.

"Everybody here still has that playoff mindset," Price said.

Niemann (7-4) allowed one run and nine hits over 6 1-3 innings.
The right-hander is 6-0 in nine starts since returning from a
strained lower back.

"Things weren't coming as easily as they have been the past few
games," Niemann said. "You're going to have starts when you're
not as sharp."

The Rays' first four-game home sweep since July 28-31, 2005 -
also against Kansas City - included an 8-7 win Wednesday night
in which Tampa Bay scored five times in the ninth.

After Joel Peralta threw 1 2-3 scoreless innings for Tampa Bay,
Kyle Farnsworth pitched the ninth for his 21st save.

Rookie left-hander Danny Duffy (3-6) gave up three runs and five
hits over seven innings.

The Royals had 11 hits, but ended up 1 for 9 with runners in
scoring position,

"It gets real frustrating when, quite frankly, in four games and
we were one hit or one pitch away from going 4-0," Kansas City
manager Ned Yost said. "Three of the four runs today came on
two-outs, nobody-on rallies."

Kansas City has the youngest 25-man roster in the majors.

"This is the most painful part," Yost said. "This is where it
hurts. We start to really show some improvement, but you can't
get over the hump in winning games. You're really close. The
hardest part is maintaining your patience and maintaining your
sense of reality. Exactly what you're trying to accomplish and
how you're going to get there."

Tampa Bay took a 2-1 lead when Zobrist drove in two runs on a
third-inning triple. Desmond Jennings tripled and scored to make
it 3-1 on Evan Longoria's fifth-inning sacrifice fly.

Sean Rodriguez extended the advantage to 4-1 on an eighth-inning
RBI single.

The Royals had runners on second and third with no outs in the
first, but scored just one run on Eric Hosmer's grounder. Kansas
City was hitless in five at-bats with runners in scoring
position through two innings.

Hosmer was retired on a grounder with two on and two outs in the
fifth. Niemann struck out Alex Gordon with two outs and the
bases loaded one inning later.

Niemann retired 10 in a row after Alcides Escobar had an infield
single with one out in the second. He is 4-0 in six games,
including five starts, against Kansas City.

Rays designated hitter Johnny Damon singled during the first and
moved past George Davis into 65th place on the all-time hits
list with 2,684.

NOTES: Yost did not talk with his team about Wednesday's tough
loss. "They're resilient," he said. "They're fine." ... Longoria
has a season-high eight-game hitting streak. ... Royals LHP
Bruce Chen (6-5) will go against Chicago White Sox RHP Zach
Stewart (1-0) on Friday night. Chen is 1-3 with a 3.66 ERA in 12
games, including seven starts, against the White Sox. ... Royals
CF Melky Cabrera had three hits in his 49th multihit game of the
season.

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