Stuck in a rut the last two weeks, the Tampa Bay Rays may have received just the boost they've been looking for.
The Rays try to build on an encouraging victory and move five games over .500 for the first time in a month in Wednesday's finale with the Oakland Athletics .
It seemed like Tampa Bay (54-50) would be in for a long night Tuesday facing Tommy Milone . The Rays had combined for 11 runs in their previous five games and Milone came in with a major league-best 0.91 home ERA.
It was Tampa Bay's James Shields , who had been the subject of trade rumors, that silenced the opposition, however. He tossed a three-hitter, and the Rays reached Milone for five runs in six innings in an 8-0 win.
"That was as clean a game as we've played in a long time," manager Joe Maddon said.
B.J. Upton drove in a pair of runs and Desmond Jennings scored twice for Tampa Bay, which pulled within 2 1/2 of Oakland (56-47) for the AL's second wild-card spot and moved four games over .500 for the fourth time since July 20. The Rays haven't been five over the break-even mark since July 3.
Tampa Bay scored more than six runs for only the second time in 18 games since the All-Star break, and seeing how the offense fared against Milone, it could be poised for another solid showing versus Jarrod Parker (7-4, 3.38 ERA).
Parker gave up a season high-tying six runs and eight hits while striking out eight in five innings in Friday's 14-9 win over Baltimore, but didn't get the decision. The rookie right-hander, who has never faced the Rays, has a 6.46 ERA in his last four starts after sporting a 1.01 ERA in his previous four.
Despite some of his recent struggles, the A's have still won five of his last six outings.
The Rays haven't enjoyed as much success with scheduled starter Alex Cobb (4-8, 4.93 ERA), losing eight of his last 10.
Oakland set a franchise record for winning percentage in July at 19-5, but ended the month dropping two of three. It combined for five runs in those games after averaging 9.4 runs in winning four of five.
"When someone is pitching that well it's tough to analyze the offense," he said.
The offense will try to rebound against Cobb, who is 1-5 with a 6.25 ERA in his last six starts.
Against the Los Angeles Angels on Friday, the right-hander gave up three runs and eight hits while walking none in seven innings of a 3-1 loss. He was making his first start since leaving his outing against Seattle on July 21 after two innings because of a bruised right leg."Overall I felt good," he said. "I've been struggling the last couple of games with my fastball command, and I felt that was there (Friday). I was able to get ahead most of the game, and when you're in the driver's seat, it makes pitching a lot easier."
Cobb wasn't as effective in his lone outing against Oakland last August, yielding five runs, eight hits and four walks in 4 1-3 innings of an 8-0 loss.
|Tampa Bay Rays|
|July 21, 2012||Luke Scott||15-Day DL||Right oblique strain|
|July 21, 2012||Alex Cobb||Day-to-Day||Left game - right knee contusion|
|July 02, 2012||Hideki Matsui||Day-to-Day||Left game - left hamstring tightness|
|June 30, 2012||Jeremy Hellickson||Day-to-Day||Left game - bruised right shin|
|June 29, 2012||David Price||Day-to-Day||Left game - lower back tightness|
|June 20, 2012||Matt Joyce||15-Day DL||Strained left oblique|
|July 28, 2012||Coco Crisp||Day-to-Day||Left game - Left hamstring tightness|
|July 20, 2012||Cliff Pennington||15-Day DL||Left elbow tendinitis|
|June 23, 2012||Collin Cowgill||15-Day DL||Sprained left ankle|
|June 23, 2012||Collin Cowgill||15-Day DL||Sprained left ankle|
|June 20, 2012||Brandon McCarthy||15-Day DL||Strained right shoulder|
|June 18, 2012||Bartolo Colon||15-Day DL||Strained right oblique|
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) -- What looked like a daunting road trip when they left home ended up being a winning one that the Tampa Bay Rays hope will provide a jolt of momentum for the stretch run.
Alex Cobb shut down Oakland for seven innings and Carlos Pena homered to help Tampa Bay complete a successful nine-game trip by beating the Athletics 4-1 on Wednesday.
"Winning on the road is always more difficult," Pena said. "To come out of this road trip playing great ballclubs like the ones we did and win all three series is a great sign. It's a very positive sign. We want to ride this positive momentum."
Pena, who drove in five runs in the series, hit an RBI double in the sixth inning and a solo homer in the eighth for the Rays, who won three straight series on one trip for the fourth time in franchise history. The wins over Baltimore, the Angels and A's marked the first time Tampa Bay won three straight road series against winning teams.
"It's pretty spectacular," manager Joe Maddon said. "Before the trip everyone is talking 7-2. To me it's always about that night. To win each series is about as good as it gets right now."
Jeff Keppinger scored twice and Matt Joyce and Ryan Roberts also drove in runs for the Rays, who moved within 1 1/2 games of Oakland for the second wild-card spot in the American League.
Brandon Inge homered for the A's, who followed up the best July in club history by losing the first game of August. Oakland got back into the AL playoff race by going 19-5 last month, but the A's have dropped consecutive games for the first time since losing three straight at Texas to end June.
"We're not going to be perfect and put seven or eight runs on the board every time," manager Bob Melvin said. "We're going through a rough patch. We'll be fine."
Cobb (5-8) followed up James Shields ' shutout on Tuesday night with a strong start of his own, settling down after escaping a bases-loaded jam in the first. He allowed four hits and one walk, striking out six as the Rays lowered their ERA to 1.70 on the trip.
"It's just a contagious thing," Cobb said. "You see one pitcher doing good and you want to match him. You definitely don't want to be that guy to be the weak link in the rotation. As long as we can keep feeding off each other and throw strikes, we'll be fine."
After getting only one run of support while losing his previous three starts, Cobb took the mound with a 1-0 lead thanks to some rare small ball by the Rays. Desmond Jennings led off against Jarrod Parker (7-5) with a single, advanced to second on B.J. Upton's first sacrifice bunt of the season and scored on a two-out hit by Joyce.
Cobb struck out Brandon Moss with the bases loaded to end the bottom half, starting a run of 10 straight batters that he retired. That was snapped when Inge led off the fifth inning with his 12th homer to cut Tampa Bay's lead to 2-1, but Cobb pitched around a double by Kurt Suzuki to preserve the lead.
"He did a great job of getting strike one, a great job, all day long," Inge said. "He was 0-2 on a lot of guys and he made his pitches. He was effective."
Fernando Rodney pitched the ninth for his 31st save in 32 chances.
Keppinger doubled and scored on a two-out hit by Roberts to give Tampa Bat a 2-0 lead in the fourth. The Rays were unable to capitalize on another sacrifice bunt by Upton in the fifth when Ben Zobrist hit into a fielder's choice with runners on second and third and Joyce grounded out.
Pena's RBI double in the sixth made it 3-1.
Parker allowed three runs and eight hits in six innings. He gave up more than two runs for only the sixth time in 19 career starts.
NOTES: A's OF Josh Reddick went 0 for 4 to extend his career-worst hitless streak to 21 at-bats. ... The Rays optioned RHP Josh Lueke to Triple-A Durham after the game and will likely call up a position player when they return home Friday to face Baltimore. ... Oakland OF Coco Crisp (left hamstring) has made significant progress and could be back in the lineup soon, Melvin said. ... A's SS Cliff Pennington (left elbow) could begin a rehab assignment Friday. ... The Rays granted Hideki Matsui his release before the game. He was designated for assignment last week. ... The A's open a four-game home series against Toronto on Thursday when Bartolo Colon (7-8) takes the mound against Henderson Alvarez (7-7).