Orioles-Rays Preview

Having clinched the second playoff berth in franchise history,

the Tampa Bay Rays can now turn their focus toward a second AL East

title in three seasons.

They’ll likely be chasing that crown in front of more fans than

usual at Tropicana Field on Wednesday night in the regular-season

home finale against the Baltimore Orioles.

The Rays (94-63) assured themselves of a postseason spot with a

5-0 victory over the Orioles on Tuesday night. David Price threw

six-hit ball over eight innings for his 19th win and Carl Crawford

and Carlos Pena homered to keep Tampa Bay one-half game ahead of

the Yankees in the East.

The Rays also stayed atop the race for the league’s best record

and home-field advantage throughout the AL playoffs.

“I never had any doubt that this was a playoff team,” manager

Joe Maddon said. ”I want it to be a World Series champ.”

Price took the mound one night after he and All-Star third

baseman Evan Longoria made comments critical of the announced crowd

– 12,446 – for a potential clincher Monday. Longoria called the

turnout “disheartening,” while Price weighed in on Twitter,

calling it “embarrassing.”

“That was a nightmare. I knew if I didn’t throw well, I was

going to be done with the fans,” Price said.

“All day. Everything that led up to it was terrible,” Price

added. “We want more fans here, obviously. We love our fans that

come, that’s not what I was saying last night.”

Tuesday’s crowd was announced as 17,891 – about 5,000 below the

Rays’ season average.

Team president Matt Silverman announced before the game that the

Rays will make available 20,000 free tickets for Wednesday, a

decision the executive said probably wouldn’t have been made if the

players had not spoken out about low attendance.

“This is about getting more energy into Tropicana Field, getting

this place packed, and for the players to thrive off of that

emotion,” Silverman said. “We saw it in the past. We’ve seen it

this year, and we will see it in the postseason.”

With their final four games at last-place Kansas City, the Rays

figure to have an easier remaining schedule than the Yankees, who

play their last three games on the road against arch-rival

Boston.

Longoria missed his fifth straight game Tuesday with a strained

left quadriceps and isn’t expected to play in the series

finale.

Jeff Niemann (11-7, 4.49 ERA) looks to win consecutive starts

for Tampa Bay. The right-hander ended a personal four-game losing

streak Friday against Seattle. He allowed three runs and seven hits

over 5 1-3 innings of the 5-3 victory, his first since returning

from a strained right shoulder Aug. 25. Niemann had been 0-4 with a

14.43 ERA over his previous five starts.

Niemann made two starts against the Orioles in April. He left

the first one in the second inning with a bruised right shoulder.

Five days later, he allowed three runs over seven innings at Camden

Yards in an 8-6, 10-inning Rays win.

Brian Roberts, who sat out Tuesday due to illness, is 8 for 19

with a two homers and four doubles against Niemann.

Losers of five of six, the Orioles (62-95), need one win in

their final five games to avoid their first 100-loss season since

1988.

Unlikely to return to Baltimore next season, Kevin Millwood

(3-16, 5.29) could be making his final start for the Orioles.

Acquired from Texas in December, the right-hander was expected to

anchor a young rotation but has instead endured the worst season of

his 14-year career.

The league leader in losses, Millwood has dropped seven of eight

decisions and has one win in his last 14 starts. He had another

disappointing outing last Wednesday at Boston, allowing six runs

and seven hits in five innings of a 6-1 defeat.

Millwood is 0-1 with a 5.06 ERA in two starts this year against

the Rays.