Streaking Rays beat Orioles 3-1 to maintain lead in AL East

BALTIMORE (AP) — It's the time of year when teams in contention start scoreboard watching, a trait that rings true even during a shortened 60-game season played in empty ballparks.

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The AL East-leading Tampa Bay are doing it. And for the moment, they're looking down at the competition in the standings.

Charlie Morton pitched five effective innings and the Rays used home runs by Yoshi Tsutsugo and Randy Arozarena to beat the Baltimore Orioles 3-1 Saturday night.

With a playoff berth already in hand, the Rays’ next objective is to win the division title for the third time in franchise history. Although the second-place Yankees beat Boston on Saturday night to remain 3 1/2 games back, Tampa Bay whittled its magic number to clinch the division to four.

“I think that’s been a driving factor for everybody in this clubhouse since this all started,” manager Kevin Cash said before the game. “We want to keep cutting and reducing that number down.”

The Rays have won seven of nine to forge the best record in the AL (35-18). If they can maintain it, they will earn the top seed in the AL playoffs.

And they know it.

“We’re starting to pay attention a little bit to what’s going on around the league," Morton said, “The Yankees are playing great baseball now. It’s in our hands, it’s in our control. That’s all you can really ask for. We’re in a good spot."

Arozarena's two-run drive in the fifth off Jorge López (2-1) put the Rays up 3-1, and that was enough offense to ring up another win over the skidding Orioles. Tampa Bay will try to complete a five-game sweep on Sunday.

Morton (2-2) allowed one run and five hits, walking two and striking out six. It was his best outing since leaving the injured list on Sept. 2 following a bout with right shoulder inflammation.

Ryan Thompson, the last of three Tampa Bay relievers, got two outs for his first career save. The Rays have had a dozen different pitchers earn saves, tying the 1973 Texas Rangers' single-season mark (since saves became an official statistic in 1969).

“It just shows how talented we think our guys and how trusting we are," Cash said. “You don’t do that with guys if they’re not equipped to do it."

The Orioles were 20-21 on Sept. 8 and in contention for a playoff spot. They have since lost 10 of 12.

Lopez gave up two homers, but he pitched well enough to have manager Brandon Hyde thinking about taking another look in 2021.

“He’s putting himself in position to be a starting pitcher next year," Hyde said.

Morton struggled with his control at the outset, needing 51 pitches to get out of the first two innings. After the Orioles used a walk and two hits to load the bases with two outs in the first, Morton hit Chance Sisco with an 0-2 pitch to force in a run.

“It’s frustrating to have a two-strike count and hit somebody with a breaking ball," Morton said. “At the same time, I’d rather throw a ball with conviction and miss than leave it over the plate and have something worse happen."

In the second inning, Morton knocked José Iglesias out of the game by hitting him with a pitch in the left wrist.

“Right now it’s a contusion. X-rays are negative," Hyde said.

But Morton breezed through the rest of his stint and was glad to get the win after using up so many pitches in the early going.

“The goal after that second inning was to get through five," he said.

Tsutsugo tied it with a third-inning drive and was hit by a pitch before Arozarena connected in the fifth.

VELAZQUEZ OPTIONED

With a full outfield and two capable players at shortstop, the Orioles decided another pitching arm was more valuable than utility player Andrew Velazquez, who was optioned to the team's alternate site. Velazquez played in 40 of Baltimore's 52 games before being cut loose after batting .159 with four steals. RH Evan Phillips was recalled to fill out an overworked bullpen.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Rays: C Mike Zunino (left oblique strain) is poised to come off the IL on Sunday. “It's not the ideal buildup without (rehab) games, but we feel he’s in a good spot and should be 100 percent ready to go," Cash said. ... INFs Ji-Man Choi (left hamstring strain) and Yandy Diaz (right hamstring strain) both hit off the tee and are scheduled to take batting practice Sunday and Monday. “Taking BP is still a long way away from being in a game,” Cash said, noting that neither player has tested his leg by running hard.

Orioles: Hyde made it official: 1B Chris Davis (left knee patellar tendinitis) is done for the season. Davis was put on IL on Sept. 14. The two-time major league home run champ finished with a .115 batting average, no homers and 1 RBI over 16 games.

UP NEXT

Rays: Cash has not named a starter for Sunday's series finale.

Orioles: LH John Means (1-3, 5.68 ERA) has only one win in eight starts. In his last outing he did not get a decision after allowing just one earned run in six innings against the Yankees.

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