Athletics-Rays Preview


Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon has plenty of respect for Jonny Gomes. He just would like him to stop haunting his former team.

Gomes and the Oakland Athletics try to wrap up this three-game series between AL wild-card frontrunners Saturday with back-to-back wins ahead of a rare Sunday off in the thick of the pennant race.

Gomes broke into the majors with the Rays, whom he played for from 2003-08. Over the course of stops in Cincinnati and Washington before arriving in Oakland this year, Gomes has proven to be a difficult out for Rays pitchers, going 10 for 29 with three homers and two doubles while hitting safely in all eight games versus Tampa Bay (70-56).

The left fielder provided the decisive blow in Oakland's 5-4 win Friday night, snapping a 3-all tie with a two-run homer in the eighth before another former Rays player - closer Grant Balfour - survived a shaky ninth for his 13th save.

The win allowed Oakland (68-57) to remain tied with Baltimore for the second wild-card spot, while Tampa Bay - atop the wild-card race - dropped 3 1/2 games behind New York in the AL East.

"That's how close games are won, with a bloop and a blast,'' Gomes said. "I don't get that at-bat without (Chris) Carter's bloop (single).''

Playing at Tropicana Field has suited Gomes with the A's, as he's gone 6 for 13 with two homers and two doubles in four games.

''I've always had a lot of respect for Jon Gomes,'' Maddon said. ''He's a good baseball player. The guy cares. Jon came out on top tonight.''

Brandon McCarthy (6-5, 3.16 ERA) wouldn't mind being the beneficiary of support by Gomes, but he's also trying to avoid losing three consecutive starts for the first time in his career. The right-hander was clearly frustrated after his loss Monday versus Minnesota, and with good reason - he gave up a season-worst six runs in 3 1-3 innings of the 7-2 defeat.

"I was horrible in the bullpen and had nothing at any point," he told the website. "I was a mess, from beginning to end. It's been a long time since I had a day like this, where you just want a rewind button in the first inning and start over."

McCarthy is 0-2 with a 6.19 ERA in three starts since missing more than two months with a strained throwing shoulder. He dominated Tampa Bay twice last year, though, allowing one run in 16 innings over an 11-day span to improve to 3-2 lifetime against the Rays.

Friday's loss was a rare off night for Tampa Bay's pitchers, who allowed five or more runs for only the sixth time in 40 games since the All-Star break. Ben Zobrist and B.J. Upton each had two hits and an RBI for the Rays, who lost for the fourth time in 18 games.

''It really was frustrating,'' Maddon said. ''That's a game we normally win. I've got to give Oakland a lot of credit. Oakland is really playing well."

Tampa Bay will attempt to regroup behind Jeremy Hellickson (8-8, 3.28), who has been sharp in splitting his last two outings - giving up two runs and 11 hits in 14 innings. He limited Kansas City to one run in seven innings of a 5-1 victory to end a personal six-game losing streak at home for his first win at Tropicana Field since May 16.

The right-hander battled control problems May 5 in his lone career outing versus Oakland, giving up three runs and five hits while walking three in 3 2-3 innings in Tampa Bay's 4-3, 12-inning defeat.

The rare Saturday end to the series is because Tropicana Field is being used as a venue for the Republican National Convention.