After scoring their runs against the Seattle Mariners Friday night in a myriad of odd ways, the Tampa Bay Rays used more modern ways to score their runs Saturday, using the long ball to great effect as they won their second straight and the series over the Mariners, 5-4.
With the win, the Rays took advantage of an Oakland loss to the Chicago White Sox earlier Saturday to move one and a half games ahead of the A's for the second wild card spot, and closed their margin to the Yankees to eight and a half games in the AL East after the Yankees lost to the Blue Jays Saturday, 5-4.
Charlie Morton pitched six effective innings for his 13th win, allowing four runs on nine hits with 10 strikeouts and no walks.
The Mariners opened the scoring in the second. After a leadoff bunt by Kyle Seager, Dee Gordon, making his first appearance after spending some time on the injured list, singled Seager to third with one out. Left fielder Tim Lopes then delivered Seager home from third, hitting a sacrifice fly to Avisail Garcia, who made a nice sliding catch in right field, preventing any further damage with the speedy Gordon on base.
But in the fifth, the Rays put a temporary end to their slumping ways with runners in scoring position. Jesus Aguilar and Mike Brosseau led off the inning with back-to-back singles off Tommy Milone, and with the slumping Mike Zunino at the plate, the first thought that came to some fans' minds was perhaps the the chance for a double or even a triple play. But baseball, being the funny, ironic game that it is, showed once again that you can never predict what will happen, as the former Mariner bombed a three-run home run off Milone, his eighth, to left center field, giving the Rays a 3-1 lead. That was only the Rays' third hit in their last 36 plate appearances with runners in scoring position.
Then after a groundout by Willy Adames, Kevin Kiermaier blasted his 12th homer of the season to right center, extending the Rays' lead to 4-1.
Seattle would get right back in it in the bottom of the fifth. With one out, former Ray Mallex Smith tripled, and then came home on a groundout to first by J.P. Crawford. Omar Narvaez was next, and he drilled a Charlie Morton pitch to the seats in right center, narrowing the Rays' lead to 4-3.
But on the first pitch of the sixth inning, Garcia homered deep to left center, stretching the Rays' lead to 5-3.
And once again, Seattle cut the lead to one in the bottom of the inning, as M's first baseman Austin Nola scored from second on a two-out single by Lopes. Nola singled with one out and advanced to second on a Morton wild pitch.
There would be only one more hit the rest of the game, as the bullpens for both teams shut down the opposing offenses. The lone hit was a two-out single in the ninth by Eric Sogard, who pinch-hit for Brosseau. That hit extended Sogard's streak of reaching base to 22 games, which is currently the longest such streak in Major League Baseball.
*Emilio Pagan picked up his 11th save with a 1-2-3 ninth inning, striking out pinch-hitter Domingo Santana for the final out.
*Milone, who pitched the bulk innings for the Mariners after two effective innings by Seattle's opener Matt Wisler, gave up all five of the Rays runs and absorbed his seventh loss of the season.
*Ryan Yarbrough (10-3 3.90 ERA) will take the hill Sunday for the Rays as they go for the sweep. Seattle has yet to announce its starter for Sunday. Game time is scheduled for 4:10 p.m. ET.