ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — The Baltimore Orioles are facing an uphill battle to win the AL East.
Alex Cobb allowed two hits over seven innings Monday night, helping the Tampa Bay Rays keep their slim playoff hopes alive with a 5-3 victory over the Orioles.
Baltimore already is assured of being in the playoffs for the first time in 15 years, but still has its sights on outlasting the Yankees for the AL East title. The Orioles fell a game out of first place behind New York when the Yankees beat Boston.
“We didn’t take care of our business,” Orioles center fielder Adam Jones said. “We lost. When it comes to the Yankees, we can’t control them. We can’t control if they win or lose.”
The Orioles arrived in St. Petersburg for the season-ending series later than expected Sunday night after their plane had to divert to Jacksonville because of a fire in the galley.
They officially clinched at least a wild-card berth when the Los Angeles Angels lost the second game of a doubleheader to the Texas Rangers late Sunday, and manager Buck Showalter, coaches and players celebrated by having a short meeting and toasting the accomplishment at the team hotel.
“We’ve clinched a spot, but we’ve got an opportunity to win the East. That’s big,” Jones said before the game. “You get to put up a banner at Camden Yards. It speaks something about the team. It means you finished ahead of the Yankees and Boston and Tampa Bay, everybody.”
Showalter understands the divisional challenge, especially with the Yankees ending the regular season at home.
“We’ll do what we can do,” Showalter said. “We have to take care of ourselves.”
Ben Zobrist hit his 20th homer and Chris Giminez had a two-run double off Wei-Yin Chen as the Rays pulled away from a 1-1 tie in the seventh. Cobb (11-9) yielded a fourth-inning single to J.J. Hardy and an opposite-field solo homer to Matt Wieters that had tied it in the top of the seventh.
The Rays won for the 11th time in 12 games, a stretch that’s kept them in contention for the AL’s second wild-card. They began the night trailing Oakland by three games and must sweep the Orioles and hope the A’s drop three straight to Texas to remain alive.
Zobrist hit a solo homer in the fourth. The Rays scored three unearned runs off Chen (12-11) in the seventh, then added one in the eighth for a 5-1 lead.
Chris Davis homered for the fifth straight game for Baltimore, a two-run shot off Kyle Farnsworth that trimmed Baltimore’s deficit to 5-3 in the ninth.
Fernando Rodney gave up singles to Jones and Wieters to put the potential tying runs on base. The Rays closer struck out Jim Thome and Mark Reynolds before getting Endy Chavez to hit a grounder back to mound to end the game. It was Rodney’s 47th save in 49 opportunities.
“The 27th out wasn’t made, so until that was made we’re going to go as hard as we can go,” Jones said.
Showalter thought Jones might have rolled his ankle running the bases, but the outfielder said that was not the case.
Cobb retired 10 in a row before Hardy singled between shortstop and third base for Baltimore’s first hit. The 24-year-old right-hander walked Thome with one out in the fifth and Nate McLouth with one out in the sixth. McLouth stole second, but was stranded when J.J. Hardy grounded to shortstop and Davis took a third called strike.
Wieters’ career-high 23rd homer home run cleared the short wall in the left-field corner known as 162 Landing, the spot where Evan Longoria hit the 12th-inning homer that sent the Rays to the playoffs on the final night of last season.
The Rays took command again against Chen in the seventh, when Longoria reached base on third baseman Manny Machado’s fielding error and eventually scored on Francisco’s sacrifice fly. Sam Fuld on a chopper that bounced over Reynolds’ head at first base, and Giminez followed with his two-run double that made 4-1.
“I should have caught it,” Machado said.
Chen, who’s 0-4 over seven starts since last winning on Aug. 19, hasn’t won since Aug. 19, allowed four runs — three of them unearned — and six hits in 6 2/3 innings. The rookie walked one and struck out four.
NOTES: The last Baltimore player to homer in six straight games was Reggie Jackson in 1976. … Baltimore RHP Jason Hammel (sore right knee) threw five innings in the Florida instructional league and could be available to pitch for the Orioles late this week. … Orioles RF Nick Markakis (broken left thumb) will have surgically-inserted pins removed in a week. … Baltimore INF Wilson Betemit had a splint removed from his right wrist and will start a hitting progression in five to seven days. … Orioles RHP Steve Johnson (sore left knee) is day to day. An MRI exam was negative.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)