Orioles-Rays Preview

The Associated Press

The Tampa Bay Rays needed nearly seven hours to improve their playoff chances in the opener of this four-game series.

Alex Cobb will try to do that a lot quicker Saturday.

Cobb looks to give the Rays' bullpen some relief while matching a franchise-record winning streak with another victory over the Baltimore Orioles.

Tampa Bay (84-69) and Cleveland hold the AL's two wild-card positions, but the Rays are one-half game ahead for home-field advantage. The race, though, is far from settled with Texas, Baltimore, Kansas City and the New York Yankees all within three games of the Indians.

With nine games left, the Rays created some slight separation Friday. David DeJesus' fourth hit scored Desmond Jennings to secure a 5-4, 18-inning win over the Orioles (81-72) in the longest game for either team at 6 hours, 54 minutes.

"That's everything right there that you play 162 games for," the Rays' Chris Gimenez said. "I've never been a part of a game that long. To win it, especially how we did it, I hope this is something we can take and kind of run with.

"It couldn't happen at a better time, I'll tell you that much. It's a huge win for us. The only thing we can control is how we go out and play. If we win, we're in. Got that Al Davis mentality, 'Just win baby.'"

Both teams will try to take that mentality to Tropicana Field less than 12 hours after DeJesus' hit.

Cobb (9-3, 3.02 ERA), though, may benefit from facing some tired Orioles as he tries to spare Tampa Bay's bullpen. Joe Madden used 10 relievers over the final 13 innings Friday, including starter and winning pitcher Jeremy Hellickson.

Cobb is 7-0 with a 2.85 ERA over his last 13 starts at home dating to last year. Another win would match the Rays' record of eight shared by James Shields (2011-12), Jeff Niemann (2009-10) and Jim Mecir (1998-2000).

A superb performance in Monday's 6-2 win over Texas pulled Cobb closer to that trio. He struck out 10 while allowing two runs in eight innings.

Cobb is 2-0 with a 2.04 ERA and 18 strikeouts in 17 2-3 innings over three starts versus Baltimore. He earned a 7-4 win in the most recent matchup Aug. 20, yielding two runs and three hits in six innings.

The Orioles, 2 1/2 games back of Cleveland, are trying to avoid an untimely three-game skid.

Miguel Gonzalez (10-7, 3.92) is expected to start despite exiting his most recent outing with a groin injury. The only run the right-hander allowed Sunday came on a solo homer before leaving with one out in the sixth of a 3-1 win at Toronto.

"I don't feel any pain," Gonzalez told the team's official website. "I'm ready to go when they tell me. I want to be on the mound anytime I can. That's what we're here for."

Like Cobb, Gonzalez may need to go deep Saturday since manager Buck Showalter used nine relievers over 13 innings in the opener, including Bud Norris.

Norris gave up the decisive hit to DeJesus, and was charged with a loss. He was expected to be used in case Gonzalez had any issues, but throwing 54 pitches in 2 1-3 innings has surely changed those plans.

Showalter, though, feels comfortable having Gonzalez start in Tampa Bay, where he's 2-0 with a 0.92 ERA in three starts.

"(Gonzalez has) done well in this venue," Showalter said.

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