Rays beat Royals 5-3 for 16th win in 21 gamesTampa Bay Rays starting pitcher James Shields delivers to the Kansas City Royals during the first inning of a baseball game, Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2012, in St. Petersburg, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) -- James Shields gave the Tampa Bay Rays another strong pitching performance as they make their push in the AL East.
Shields took a three-hitter into the eighth inning, leading Tampa Bay over the Kansas City Royals 5-3 Wednesday for the Rays' 16th win in 21 games.
The Rays moved three games back of the Yankees in the AL East after New York lost to the White Sox 2-1.
Shields (12-7) retired 12 in a row after Alcides Escobar's two-out single in the third and allowed three runs and five hits in 7 2-3 innings. The right-hander struck out seven and walked one, improving to 4-0 with a 2.15 ERA in his last five starts.
''I'm mixing my pitches up pretty well,'' Shields said. ''My delivery has been really, really well ever since the beginning of this month. My change up is back in action.''
Escobar ended Shields' day with a two-out RBI triple in the eighth that pulled Kansas City to 4-2. Jake McGee allowed a run-scoring single to Alex Gordon, and Kyle Farnsworth retired Billy Butler on a grounder.
''Shields set the tone, again,'' Rays manager Joe Maddon said. ''Our starters normally do that. Great job on his part.''
Jose Labaton homered off Aaron Crow leading off the bottom half, and Fernando Rodney pitched the ninth for his 39th save in 41 chances.
It was the first homer Crow allowed on the road since Boston's Carl Crawford went deep on Aug. 21 last year at Fenway Park.
Tampa Bay won two of three in the series, limiting the Royals to just five runs. Tampa Bay leads the AL with a 3.27 ERA.
Kansas City manager Ned Yost was ejected in the eighth by plate umpire Scott Barry for arguing after Eric Hosmer took a called third strike.
''These guys have tremendous starting pitching, tremendous bullpen,'' Yost said of the Rays. ''It's a team you don't really want to come in and play because they're coached well, they're managed well, they play he game right and their pitching is just phenomenal. That being said, I thought we came in here and matched up pretty good in the three-game set.''
Luis Mendoza (7-9) gave up two runs, five hits and four walks in 4 1-3 innings. He also hit a batter and balked.
''I struggled with my command,'' Mendoza said. ''I tried to pitch careful today and I put runners on base and then they got a big hit. In baseball, the base on balls hurt you.''
Jeff Francoeur's RBI single put Kansas City ahead in the second, but the Rays took a 2-1 lead in the third on Ben Zobrist's sacrifice fly and Jeff Keppinger's RBI single. Ryan Roberts doubled in a run in the sixth, and the Rays made it 4-1 in the seventh on an error at second by Escobar, who couldn't handle Francoeur's throw from right on Zobrist's double.
''We kind of got some there late, but we just ran out of innings,'' Francoeur said. ''Coming in I knew it was going to be tough series. We got one and we got close to getting one today.''
NOTES: Yost's ejection was his third this season and 29th overall. ... Tampa Bay went 1 for 8 with runners in scoring position through the fifth and 1 for 13 overall. ... Mendoza threw 43 of 81 pitches for strikes. ... Tampa Bay begins a three-game home series Thursday night against Oakland that ends Saturday. The Rays don't play on Sunday due to Tropicana Field being used for next week's Republican National Convention. ... The Royals are off Thursday before a four-game series at Boston.