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Rays slip past Orioles to inch closer to AL East title

BALTIMORE — There was a lot worth talking about Monday after the Rays' 4-2 victory over the Orioles.

David Price's first major-league start was impressive as he took a no-hitter into the fifth, even though he didn't get the win. Carlos Pena's 100th RBI was an accomplishment, especially since he got it with his record ninth bases-loaded walk. Winning with just three hits made it noteworthy, since they'd done it that way only once before this season.

But it was the loud roar coming from their clubhouse after watching the final out of the Red Sox's loss that said the most.

"We happened to be watching," manager Joe Maddon deadpanned. "Nice, happy ending."

With their win and the Boston loss, the Rays reduced their "magic number" for winning the American League East — and getting the homefield advantage in the first round of the playoffs that comes with it — to four.

With the chance to log two wins in today's doubleheader, the Rays (93-62, 2½ games ahead) could be in position to clinch as soon as Wednesday, In most scenarios, they're in good shape; for example, if they go just 3-4 over their final seven games, the Red Sox have to win all their remaining six (including the final three with the Yankees).

"You try not to get too excited, honestly, until the very end," said reliever J.P. Howell, who, with Grant Balfour, again lent a huge hand.

Price, remarkable in zooming from Class A to the majors in 3½ months, had been impressive in two relief appearances and was again on Monday.

"He's definitely got the stuff with the hype," said Baltimore's Aubrey Huff, the ex-Ray. "He's going to be good."

Showing a fastball consistently in the 93-94 mph range and an effective slider, Price retired the first five Orioles and didn't allow a hit until the fifth. He got a bit untracked there, after an inning-opening error by Evan Longoria, giving up a couple of singles, walking No. 9 hitter Juan Castro with the bases loaded to force in a run, then allowing a sac fly that tied the score.

"I thought David was very good," Maddon said. "I thought he was going to get deeper into that game, it just started to mess up on him a little bit."

Still, Price worked 51/3 innings, allowed four hits and one earned run, walked three and struck out three, throwing 88 pitches.

"Not too bad," Price said. "I pounded the zone, I challenged their hitters, I worked out of a couple jams. Just not too bad."

Price's future will be at the front of the rotation. But what the Rays have to decide now is whether he could help them in the near future coming out of the bullpen, with the biggest question how frequently he could be available.

"My arm, it feels good tomorrow," Price said. "My arm's felt good all year. I don't think that's the big transition. I think the biggest thing of being a reliever is preparing yourself to come in with runners on. That's about it."

O's starter Brian Bass was also impressive and hadn't allowed a hit when manager Dave Trembley pulled him after he walked the bases loaded in the fifth.

Akinori Iwamura got the first, and biggest, hit for the Rays, greeting reliever Randor Bierd with a two-strike, two-out, two-run single. "I knew that was a pretty crucial moment and I wanted to make something happen," Iwamura said.

After the Orioles tied it in the fifth, the Rays struck back in the seventh, taking advantage of an error, scoring one run on Jason Bartlett's fan-interfered double and another on Pena's walk.

By the end, it was a very good night.

"I'm not opposed to scoreboard watching, I'm not opposed to our guys cheering in the clubhouse, I think it's great, but take care of your own business and you don't have to worry about all this other stuff," Maddon said. "But it was pretty cool."

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com.

Rays 4

Orioles 2

Photo gallery online

Check out a photo gallery from Monday night's win in Baltimore, plus listen to an audio report on the team at rays.tampabay.com.

Playoff tickets

Tickets go on sale to the public at 9 a.m. Wednesday at raysbase
ball.com. A random drawing for fans who registered for a special online presale was held Monday, and winners can buy tickets online today via a special link and password.

Magic number

4 Combination Rays wins or Red Sox losses to win AL East.

Rays slip past Orioles to inch closer to AL East title 09/22/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 24, 2008 6:36pm]

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