Con­fi­dent Rays move in front of Yan­kees

Los Angeles Times - - Sports - Kevin Bax­ter

The first time Tampa Bay won a di­vi­sion ti­tle two years ago, it was a sur­prise — es­pe­cially to the peo­ple in Tampa Bay.

But this sum­mer the Rays ex­pected to win. Planned to win. Had to win.

“We’ve said from the be­gin­ning of spring train­ing that we’re putting a lot of em­pha­sis on this year,” said Gerry Hun­sicker, the team’s vice pres­i­dent for base­ball op­er­a­tions. “In all like­li­hood this will be the last year for this par­tic­u­lar group be­cause of the pend­ing free agency of some of our key play­ers and the like­li­hood that we’re not go­ing to be


able to keep this group to­gether.”

Fri­day, the Rays took an­other step to­ward as­sur­ing that group goes out a win­ner, vault­ing over the Yan­kees and into the Amer­i­can League East lead by beat­ing Seat­tle, 5-3, while New York was los­ing to Bos­ton, 10-8.

Willy Ay­bar snapped a 2-2 tie with a run-scor­ing sin­gle in Tampa’s three-run fifth in­ning and Rafael So­ri­ano got the fi­nal three outs for his team-record 44th save in the Rays’ win while Bos­ton pounded Andy Pet­titte for seven runs and 10 hits in 31⁄ in­nings, over­com­ing

3 a sea­son-high six home runs for the Yan­kees.

Alex Ro­driguez had two of those homers, mov­ing him past Sammy Sosa and into sixth place on the ca­reer list with 610.

This is the third time Tampa has led the di­vi­sion this month — each time by a half game. And on the two pre­vi­ous oc­ca­sions, they stayed in first for just a day. This time Tampa’s visit to the pent­house might last a bit longer since Fri­day’s win was the Rays’ third straight while the Yan­kees have lost 12 of their last 18, blow­ing a 21⁄ 2-game edge in the di­vi­sion race. The Yan­kees are com­fort­able lead­ers in the AL wild-card race, how­ever.

There were some changes at the top in the Na­tional League on Fri­day as well with San Diego tak­ing sole pos­ses­sion of first in the wild-card race by scor­ing twice in the sev­enth in­ning to beat Cincin­nati, 4-3, while strug­gling At­lanta was los­ing its fourth in a row, fall­ing 8-3 to Washington to drop a half game off the pace.

But San Fran­cisco main­tained its half-game ad­van­tage over the Padres in the West Di­vi­sion race with Tim Lince­cum hold­ing the Rock­ies to two hits over eight in­nings in a 2-1win.

It was the 18th con­sec­u­tive game in which the Giants held their op­po­nents to three runs or fewer, the long­est such streak since 1917.

Fad­ing Colorado, losers of five straight, dropped 41⁄ games back

2 in the di­vi­sion race.

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