The second-place Orioles try to create some breathing room between themselves and the third-place Rays, who look for their recent momentum to carry over Tuesday night as they begin a crucial six-game road trip.
Baltimore (78-62) took two of the first three from the New York Yankees before falling 13-3 in Sunday's series finale, slipping back into second place in the division.
The Orioles, who won four of seven versus New York over a 10-day stretch, sit one game behind the Yankees and one in front of the Rays (77-63). Tampa Bay and Baltimore are also embroiled in a tight wild-card race with Oakland and the Los Angeles Angels .
"We don't care about the last four of seven. We care about the next three," said outfielder Adam Jones , batting .393 with three homers in his last seven games. "(These) are the most important three games of the season right now."
Winners of six of eight in September, the Rays are coming off Sunday's 6-0 victory over Texas. B.J. Upton belted three homers to tie a team record and James Shields threw a two-hitter, continuing the club's recent mastery on the mound.
Tampa Bay owns the majors' lowest ERA at 3.22, compiling a 2.64 mark this month while holding opponents to a .185 average.
"We've been pitching pretty well lately," Shields told the team's official website. "We're just trying to keep that momentum going, trying to feed off of each other."
The Rays, who visit New York following this series, now turn to Matt Moore (10-9, 3.66 ERA) - the only Tampa Bay pitcher scheduled to make two starts during the trek.
"I'm very happy with having that," said Moore, 2-1 with a 1.75 ERA in his last four road outings. "I'm glad that I'm going to have a hand in both of these series on the road."
The left-hander had gone 5-2 with a 2.08 ERA in his first nine starts following the All-Star break before surrendering six runs - four earned - and eight hits over 6 1-3 innings during Wednesday's 6-4 loss to the Yankees.
"There's some things that I can get better at as far as my last start ... it mostly has to do with getting ahead and staying ahead," he said.
Moore is 2-1 with a 1.15 ERA over three starts in this series but will need to be wary of Mark Reynolds , who's batting .343 with nine homers and 17 RBIs in his last 10 games. Matt Wieters is 4 for 7 with two long balls versus Moore.
The Orioles counter with Jason Hammel (8-6, 3.46), who pitched for the Rays from 2006-08 but has never faced them.
The right-hander was sharp in his return from nearly two months on the disabled list Thursday, allowing one run and striking out six in five-plus innings against the Yankees. The Orioles won that game 10-6, although Hammel is still looking for his first victory since June 22.
Desmond Jennings is expected to return to the Rays' lineup after missing the last two games with tightness in his lower back. He's gone 3 for 25 (.120) against the Orioles this season, though two of those hits have left the yard.
These teams have split 12 games overall and six at Camden Yards this year.
|Tampa Bay Rays|
|September 08, 2012||Desmond Jennings||Day-to-Day||Lower back stiffness|
|September 07, 2012||David Price||Day-to-Day||Left shoulder soreness|
|August 31, 2012||Sean Rodriguez||15-Day DL||Fractured right hand|
|August 28, 2012||Matt Joyce||Day-to-Day||Left game - strained left forearm|
|August 05, 2012||Ben Zobrist||Day-to-Day||Left game - upper back spasms|
|July 21, 2012||Luke Scott||15-Day DL||Right oblique strain|
|September 09, 2012||Nick Markakis||Day-to-Day||Broken left thumb|
|September 02, 2012||Chris Tillman||Day-to-Day||Left game - stiff right elbow|
|August 22, 2012||Matt Wieters||Day-to-Day||Left game - right shoulder contusion|
|August 13, 2012||Troy Patton||15-Day DL||Sprained right ankle|
|August 12, 2012||Wilson Betemit||15-Day DL||Sore right wrist|
|August 12, 2012||Wilson Betemit||15-Day DL||Sore right wrist|
BALTIMORE (AP) -- For the second time in three games, the Baltimore Orioles had an uplifting victory marred by an injury to a key player.
J.J. Hardy homered twice, doubled and drove in five runs, and the Orioles defeated the Tampa Bay Rays 9-2 Tuesday night to move into a tie for the AL East lead.
But starting pitcher Jason Hammel left in the fourth inning with an injured right knee. The right-hander underwent arthroscopic surgery on that same knee in mid-July and was making his second start since returning from the disabled list.
Hammel will be examined Wednesday by the team surgeon. He said the sensation was exactly identical to what he felt in a July 13 game against Detroit, his last start before going on the DL.
"It's a very sharp pain in the knee in the same spot," Hammel said. "I'm hoping it is just scar tissue. I've been told scar tissue can react like that."
On Saturday, Baltimore lost right fielder Nick Markakis with a broken left thumb while defeating the New York Yankees . Both Hammel and Markakis were on the DL earlier this year.
"We've been down this road many times this year with a lot of different challenges," manager Buck Showalter said. "We've operated a good portion of this season without Ham and without Nicky, so we're kind of experienced at it anyway. It's not the kind of experience you want to have."
Hammel had no problem with the knee on Thursday night against the Yankees, and retired 11 of 13 Tampa Bay batters before exiting.
"Against the Yankees, I felt great," Hammel said. "I felt like I was back on track, and I know I can help this team when I am healthy. So it's very frustrating."
Steve Johnson (3-0) got the win with 1 1-3 innings of hitless relief.
With Markakis out, Hardy picked up the slack. He went 4 for 5 to help Baltimore pull even atop the division with the Yankees, who lost 4-3 at Boston. The Rays are two games behind the co-leaders.
Hardy hit a two-run homer in the third inning, doubled and scored in the fifth, singled in a run in the sixth and added his 21st homer with a runner on in the eighth. It was his ninth career two-homer game, the second this season.
"I got a couple pitches to hit and didn't miss them," Hardy said.
Chris Davis homered and Matt Wieters had three hits and two RBIs for Baltimore.
Ryan Roberts and Elliott Johnson hit solo homers for Tampa Bay. It was the first time since Aug. 4 that the Rays lost by more than two runs; eight of their previous 12 defeats were by one run.
"Anybody can get beat by a lot of runs any night," Roberts said. "It didn't go our way tonight, and that's how it happens sometime in baseball."
Roberts left in the sixth inning with a left forearm strain, the result of a tag he made at second base. X-rays were negative, and he held out hope of playing Wednesday in the next game of the three-game series.
"I'm just glad it isn't broke," Roberts said. "If it's up to me, I'm playing. We're in a tight race and these games mean a lot, so I definitely want to play even if it's going to hurt a little bit."
Tampa Bay left-hander Matt Moore (10-10) threw 94 pitches over four innings before being lifted by manager Joe Maddon. Moore allowed two earned runs on four hits and three walks.
Burke Badenhop entered with a run of eight straight scoreless appearances and promptly gave up a double to Hardy, a single to Adam Jones and two-run double to Wieters that provided Baltimore with a 5-1 lead.
Hardy's sixth-inning RBI single came off Cesar Ramos and Davis hit his 25th homer in the seventh off J.P. Howell.
Johnson connected against Darren O'Day leading off the eighth, and Hardy homered off Dane De La Rose in the bottom half.
The victory improved Baltimore's record against AL East foes to 33-24 compared to 28-44 last year.
Baltimore broke on top with an unearned run in the first inning. Jones walked and scored when Matt Joyce fumbled Wieters' two-out single to right.
Hammel retired the first eight batters before Roberts connected in the third. It was his fourth homer with Tampa Bay since in coming over in a trade with Arizona on July 24.
In the bottom half, Robert Andino led off with a double and Hardy homered to put the Orioles ahead for good.
NOTES: Baltimore leads the season series 7-6 and took the lead in the all-time series, 127-126. ... The Orioles purchased the contracts of OFs Endy Chavez and L.J. Hoes and designated RHP Kevin Gregg and INF Ryan Adams for assignment. ... This was the first of 15 consecutive games against AL East foes for the Rays, who head to Yankee Stadium after this series. ... The Rays will send Alex Cobb to the mound Wednesday night and the Orioles will start rookie Miguel Gonzalez , who's 0-1 with a 6.52 ERA in two starts against Tampa Bay.