BALTIMORE (AP) — The Tampa Bay Rays are doing a good job of creating some separation between themselves and the Baltimore Orioles, while at the same time keeping within striking distance of the first-place Boston Red Sox in the AL East.
Even though it’s not September yet, the Rays don’t intend to wait around to make their run at the top.
Alex Cobb took a two-hitter into the seventh inning, Matt Joyce drove in three runs and Tampa Bay beat the Orioles 7-4 Tuesday night for its sixth win in seven games.
Wil Myers had two hits and two RBIs for the Rays, who lead the AL wild-card race and trail the Red Sox by a half-game in the division, pending Boston’s late game in San Francisco.
Tampa Bay has won the first two games of this series between AL East rivals and can complete a sweep Wednesday night.
“It’s very big for where we’re at in the division and the fact we’re chasing the Red Sox a little bit and also trying to create some distance, because we know the O’s and the Yankees are very capable and very tough competitors,” said Ben Zobrist, who had two hits and an RBI. “We don’t anticipate it being any sort of easy road to the end of September and we’ve got to battle. This is two great wins for us to start off.”
The Orioles, on the other hand, have lost six of eight and are in danger of being overtaken by the surging Yankees.
“It’s not the position we would prefer to find ourselves in after the first two games of the series, that’s for sure, but there’s still plenty of baseball left for us to make up some ground,” said Nate McLouth, who went 0 for 5. “It’s not ideal at all, but we won’t let this game affect (Wednesday’s) game.”
Cobb (8-2) was making his second start since being hit in the head by a line drive off the bat of Kansas City’s Eric Hosmer on June 15. The right-hander allowed two runs, one earned, three hits and four walks in six-plus innings to win his fifth straight decision.
“The curveball really helped me out early on,” Cobb said. “My changeup started working a little bit so I established that I was going to throw in and out with the fastball early and I got them to expand the zone a few times with my off-speed pitches.”
Cobb left after Baltimore used two walks and a single to load the bases with no outs in the seventh. Alex Torres got Brian Roberts to hit into a run-scoring double play before striking out McLouth to keep the Rays ahead 3-2.
“They brought in that lefty with that really good changeup to come in and do exactly what he did and that’s why they’re such a tough team,” McLouth said. “Because they can make life pretty tough on you.”
Joyce doubled in two runs in the ninth off T.J. McFarland and Myers added a broken-bat, two-run single off Jim Johnson.
Matt Wieters hit a two-run homer in the bottom half before Fernando Rodney entered and got three outs for his 29th save.
Orioles starter Miguel Gonzalez (8-6) gave up three runs, two earned, eight hits and four walks in 5 2-3 innings. The right-hander is 0-3 in five starts since July 20.
One night after getting 15 hits in a 4-3 loss to Tampa Bay, Baltimore managed only five hits, four of them singles.
“We didn’t get any hits. That’s obvious,” manager Buck Showalter said. “If you want to look for a reason, I personally look at Cobb, who was tough. We didn’t do much off him tonight. I think that was it in a nutshell.”
The Rays have won seven of eight against the Orioles to take an 8-5 lead in the season series.
The two teams with the fewest errors in the majors each gave up an unearned run in the second inning. In the top half, Joyce walked, advanced on an errant pickoff throw by Gonzalez and scored on a two-out bloop by Yunel Escobar.
Baltimore tied it when Evan Longoria muffed a grounder and Flaherty singled in a run with two outs.
Tampa Bay went up 3-1 in the third. After Desmond Jennings walked and scored on a double by Zobrist, Longoria singled and Joyce delivered a sacrifice fly.
Gonzalez worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the fifth by getting James Loney to bounce into a double play.
NOTES: Zobrist moved into a fifth-place tie with B.J. Upton on the team’s career RBI list with 447. Aubrey Huff is in fourth with 449. … Jeremy Hellickson, who’s 8-3 lifetime against Baltimore, starts for Tampa Bay in the series finale Wednesday night. LH Wei-Yin Chen will pitch for Baltimore. … The Orioles had won five straight over the Rays with Gonzalez as the starter. … McLouth is hitless in his last 17 at-bats.