ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Hold the celebration. The AL East-leading Tampa Bay Rays still have some work to do to clinch a playoff berth, and their star player is hoping more fans will turn out and help them get it done.
Brian Matusz and the Baltimore Orioles pushed a planned party back at least another day with a 4-0 victory that wasn’t nearly as disappointing Monday night as the announced crowd of 12,446 — well below the already disconcerting 23,047 Tampa Bay has averaged at Tropicana Field this season.
Evan Longoria, who did not play because of a strained left quadriceps, called the low number for a potential playoff clincher “disheartening.”
“We’ve been playing great baseball all year. Since I’ve been here in ’06, the fans have wanted a good baseball team. They’ve wanted to watch a contender,” the three-time All-Star said. “And for us to play good baseball for three years now, and for us to be in a spot to clinch again and go to the playoffs, we’re all confused as to why it’s only 15,00 to 20,000 in the building.”
Matusz (9-12) pitched seven impressive innings and Nick Markakis drove in two runs with a triple and a single to pace the Orioles.
The rookie left-hander allowed three hits, two of them infield singles. He walked one, hit a batter with a pitch and matched a career high with eight strikeouts before being replaced by Jim Johnson.
The Rays’ magic number to clinch their second playoff berth in three years remained at one. They retained a half-game lead in the division over the New York Yankees, who lost 7-5 in Toronto.
The Rays still had a chance to lock up a trip to the postseason Monday night with a Boston loss to the Chicago White Sox. The Red Sox won 6-1, keeping their slim hopes for the wild card alive.
Tampa Bay will send 18-game David Price to the mound Tuesday night, however manager Joe Maddon isn’t taking anything for granted.
“I’m not a chicken counter. You just go out and play the game and see what happens,” Maddon said. “I like the fact that David’s out there. We’ve just got to go out there and play a good game of baseball.”
Longoria said he was not trying to “take a low blow” at the fans.
“I’m actually just trying to rally the troops and get more people in here,” he said, adding that he’s holding off on expressing his feelings about the lack of support.
“It’s a tough situation for us. A lot of the visiting teams come in and wonder where are all the fans. It’s a little bit embarrassing for us,” Longoria said. “Again, we’re one game away from clinching a postseason spot. We have enough guys in this room to celebrate with, but we’d love to celebrate with the fans, too. It’s just tough to see that.”
Markakis had an RBI triple off Wade Davis (13-9) in the fifth inning. The Orioles scored three times in the seventh, with Markakis and Luke Scott delivering run-scoring singles and Ty Wigginton adding a sacrifice fly.
The loss was the first for Davis since June 27, ending a seven-game winning streak that matched the longest in Tampa Bay history.
Johnson pitched a perfect eighth for the Orioles. Koji Uehara struck out the side in the ninth to finish the three-hitter.
The Orioles were more than happy to delay Tampa Bay’s plans.
“I definitely thought about that coming into this start,” said Matusz, who’s won five consecutive decisions over seven starts. “I knew that I didn’t want this game to be the reason why they’re celebrating. It’s fun to be able to postpone that and go out there and get a win.”
Baltimore was without manager Buck Showalter, suspended one game following a run-in Sunday in which Toronto star and major league home run leader Jose Bautista was twice hit by pitches. Orioles reliever Alfredo Simon was given a three-game penalty that he’s appealing.
Showalter said before the game that the plunkings were not intentional.
The Rays loaded the bases on two infield singles and a walk in the fifth, but Matusz escaped when Jason Bartlett grounded into a force play to end the inning. The left-hander also worked out of a jam in the first, when he struck out Ben Zobrist after giving up a single to Bartlett and hitting Willy Aybar with a pitch.
Davis, unbeaten in his previous 11 starts dating to July 8, allowed three runs and seven hits over 6 1-3 innings. Markakis drove in the second run charged to the Tampa Bay starter with his seventh-inning single off Randy Choate.
Wigginton followed with his sacrifice fly against Chad Qualls. Scott’s RBI single off Qualls made it 4-0.
NOTES: Longoria has missed the past four games. Although he’s resumed limited baseball drills, Maddon said he might be held out of the lineup again Tuesday and Wednesday. … Markakis was 1 for 15 against Davis before his RBI triple. … Jeff Niemann (2008-09) and Mark Hendrickson (2005) are the other pitchers who have won seven straight decisions for Tampa Bay.