ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The Tampa Bay Rays
refuse to admit that any one game is more important than another, insisting that each day matters as the postseason draws near.
However, there's little doubt that their 6-2 win Monday night in the opener of a four-game series against the reeling Texas Rangers
meant a little something extra.
Tampa Bay has won four or five since dropping 13 of 17, and this one at Tropicana Field gave the Rays sole possession of first place in the American League wild-card standings for the first time since Aug. 28.
The Rays got a dominant eight-inning start from Alex Cobb and another big offensive night from rookie outfielder Wil Myers as they broke a wild-card tie with the Rangers.
"At this point of the season, with the position we're in, every game's going to get bigger and bigger," said Cobb, who allowed two runs on six hits and struck out 10. "We realize the position we're in, and we realize the performance we have to put together out there every night. I think we're up for it, so it was nice to get the win."
Texas has lost seven in a row, matching its longest losing streak since April 18-24, 2007. The Rangers have not had a lead during the skid, a span of 63 innings since beating the Angels on Sept. 8, and they have dropped 13 of 15 games.
After scuffling through a rough patch offensively, Tampa Bay broke out against former Ray Matt Garza on Monday night. In all, the Rays racked up 12 hits and went 6-for-11 with runners in scoring position. Myers led the way, finishing 2-for-4 with a solo homer, a double and three RBIs. Evan Longoria and Ben Zobrist
added three hits apiece.
That was more than enough for Cobb (9-3), who improved to 6-0 with a 3.00 ERA in 12 starts at home this season. He said the key was fastball command, as that set up his excellent changeup and above-average curveball.
"He's almost unhittable," Myers said. "I would not want to face him at all. He's got three good pitches. His stuff's nasty."
This one got out of hand in the fifth, when Tampa Bay broke a 2-2 tie by batting around for the first time since Aug. 20.
"They started to put some runs on the board and that was the game right there," Rangers manager Ron Washington said.
David DeJesus led off the inning with a double to right, then moved to third on Zobrist's single. James Loney knocked an RBI single down the left field line, and Zobrist came around to score on Longoria's ground-ball single up the middle.
That did it for Garza (3-5), who allowed six runs on eight hits over 4 1/3 innings in his first start against his former team, though he said facing the Rays didn't affect him.
"What's galling is letting down my team," Garza said. "It doesn't matter who I'm against. It's my team that's the one I care about."
The Rays were not finished after Garza exited, as Myers drove in two more runs with a double to center field.
It was Myers who got to Garza first, continuing his torrid stretch by drilling an opposite-field home run to lead off the second, his fourth homer in his past 13 games. Myers is batting .352 in September, with 11 of 19 hits going for extra bases.
"It's big just to come out here and beat this team, especially being tied with the wild card right here," Myers said. "I think it was all around a good win, good starting pitching, good bullpen and timely hitting."
NOTES: The victory clinched the Rays' sixth consecutive winning season. ... The Rangers held a players-only meeting prior to Monday's game to address their recent struggles. ... Rays RHP Jesse Crain (right shoulder strain) threw to hitters Monday afternoon for the first time since going on the disabled list. Crain, acquired from the White Sox before the trade deadline, has not pitched for Tampa Bay. If he feels fine Tuesday, Crain could join the Rays' bullpen as soon as Wednesday. ... Texas will start RHP Alexi Ogando on Tuesday against Tampa Bay RHP Jeremy Hellickson. ... Lance Berkman went 0-for-4 as the Rangers' designated hitter in his first start since Sept. 3. ... The Rays now have six pitchers with 20 starts apiece, becoming the first American League team to do so since the 2001 Devil Rays. ... Texas hasn't homered in seven straight games, the club's longest drought since Aug. 10-17, 1990.
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