ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) - The Tampa Bay Rays are back in first place and one step closer to postseason play.
Willy Aybar drove in two runs, Rafael Soriano set a team record with his 44th save of the season and the Rays beat the Seattle Mariners 5-3 on Friday night.
Tampa Bay reduced its magic number to three to clinch the franchise's second playoff berth and moved into first place in the AL East by a half game after New York lost to Boston.
``That's our goal, man. Our goal is to have the best record, our goal is to have the home-field advantage and our goal is to win the World Series,' Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said.
The Rays hold the tiebreaker if they finish the regular season tied with New York after winning the season series with the Yankees 10-8.
Aybar hit a tiebreaking RBI single and later scored on a passed ball during a three-run fifth as the Rays went ahead 5-2. Ben Zobrist drove in the other run with a bunt single.
Soriano, the fourth Tampa Bay reliever, pitched the ninth to break Roberto Hernandez's franchise save record set in 1999.
``I'm happy with all that's happening this year,' Soriano said.
Rays third baseman Evan Longoria is scheduled to miss the three-game series because of a left quadriceps strain and will be evaluated on Monday. He underwent an MRI exam that showed no tear.
``I don't see this lingering more than five, six days,' Longoria said.
Seattle's Jason Vargas (9-12) lost his seventh straight start, which is one off the team record held by Randy Johnson (1992) and Rick Honeycutt (1980).
Vargas gave up five runs and six hits over 4 1-3 innings.
``They fouled off a lot of pitches, pitches I left up,' Vargas said. ``When I left it over the plate, they were able to put it in play.'
Jeff Niemann (11-7) allowed three runs and seven hits in 5 2-3 innings and won for the first time since returning from a strained right shoulder on Aug. 25. The Rays right-hander had been 0-4 with 14.43 ERA over his previous five starts after a 20-game stint on the disabled list.
``Everything fell back into place,' Niemann said.
Adam Moore had a pair of run-scoring singles for the Mariners, who are 23-53 on the road this season. Ichiro Suzuki went 2 for 5, giving him a major league-best 65 multi-hit games this year.
Kelly Shoppach put the Rays ahead 1-0 on a second-inning RBI double. Aybar made it 2-0 with a sacrifice fly in the third.
Seattle tied it at 2 on run-scoring singles by Franklin Gutierrez and Moore during the fourth. Moore pulled Seattle within 5-3 on a sixth-inning RBI that ended Niemann's night.
A pair of Mariners' prospects, Dan Cortes and Anthony Varvaro, both threw one hitless inning out of the bullpen. Cortes struck out one, while Varvaro had two strikeouts and a walk.
``I wasn't as nervous as I expected to be,' Varvaro said.
The announced crowd was just 17,840.
Notes: The Rays are 47-29 at home. Tampa Bay was just 20-19 after the first 39 home games this year. ... Aaron Sele (2008) and Carlos Silva (2008) also dropped seven starts in a row for Seattle. ... Gutierrez was back in the starting lineup. He pinch-hit on Thursday after missing two games due to flulike symptoms. ... Mariners INF Russell Branyan, sidelined the past week by back stiffness, has not resumed taking batting practice. ... Seattle RHP Felix Hernandez (12-12, 2.31 ERA) will make his next start Tuesday on regular rest, although it has not been announced if he also will pitch in the regular-season finale five days later.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
All Rights Reserved