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Rays-Orioles Preview

AP - Sports

Once again, the Baltimore Orioles have a chance to grab sole possession of first place in the AL East.

That's if they can end Alex Cobb's recent run of success for the Tampa Bay Rays.

Making his first appearance against the Orioles, Cobb tries to help the Rays even their three-game set at Camden Yards on Wednesday night.

J.J. Hardy homered twice and had five RBIs in Baltimore's 9-2 win over Tampa Bay on Tuesday. The victory moved the Orioles (79-62) into a first-place tie with New York, which split a four-game set at Camden Yards over the weekend but lost 4-3 at Boston on Tuesday.

Baltimore, however, might have lost another key contributor after starter Jason Hammel left in the fourth inning Tuesday with a knee injury. The Orioles are without right fielder Nick Markakis for the rest of the regular season after he suffered a broken left thumb Saturday.

"We've been down this road many times this year with a lot of different challenges,'' manager Buck Showalter said. "We're kind of experienced at it anyway.''

Tampa Bay (77-64), which has dropped three of five after winning four in a row, is two games behind the division co-leaders. Tuesday's defeat was the first time since Aug. 4 that the Rays lost by more than two runs.

"It didn't go our way, and that's how it happens sometime in baseball," said infielder Ryan Roberts, who hit a solo homer.

The Rays hope Cobb (9-8, 4.28 ERA) can help them bounce back and possibly make up ground in the division. The right-hander is 5-0 with a 3.25 ERA in seven starts - all Rays wins - since posting a 5.11 ERA while losing three straight from July 16-27.

He allowed a two-run homer and three other hits in seven innings of a 5-2 win over the Yankees on Sept. 4.

Cobb faces a Baltimore lineup that pounded out 13 hits Tuesday, including three homers. Matt Wieters went 3 for 3 with two RBIs while Chris Davis added to his career high with his 25th home run. Wieters is 4 for 6 in the last two games, and 6 for 14 in his last four against the Rays.

Hardy is batting .327 (16 for 49) versus Tampa Bay this season, and .387 (12 for 31) with three homers and 10 RBIs in his last eight games overall.

Baltimore starter Miguel Gonzalez (6-4, 3.62) allowed two hits and overcame four walks to last seven innings in a 1-0, 10-inning win at Tampa Bay on Aug. 5. It was much better than his first look at the Rays at home July 25, when he was roughed up for seven runs in 2 2-3 innings of a 10-1 defeat.

Though the rookie right-hander has a 1.93 ERA while winning his last two home starts, he hopes to rebound after he gave up five runs in 6 1-3 innings of a 6-4 loss at Toronto last Wednesday.

Roberts' one hit in three at-bats against Gonzalez left the park. He hopes to face Gonzalez again despite leaving Tuesday's contest with a strained left forearm.

"If it's up to me, I'm playing," said Roberts, who is 2 for 14 with two home runs versus Baltimore in 2012. "I definitely want to play even if it's going to hurt a little bit.''

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