ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The Tampa Bay Rays continued fortifying their perch atop the American League wild card standings and pushing the Baltimore Orioles off the cliff on Sunday with a 3-1 win at Tropicana Field.
Tampa Bay got timely hitting and a stifling pitching effort from rookie left-hander Enny Romero -- making his Major League debut -- and an effective bullpen.
Tampa Bay (86-69) remains a half-game in front of Cleveland for the top wild card while the Orioles fell to 81-73 and 4 1/2 games behind the Indians with seven games remaining.
The Orioles didn't have a hit after Manny Machado's leadoff single until Danny Valencia banged a two-out base hit in the ninth and Matt Wieters lofted a run-scoring double off the 'B' ring overhanging the field.
Fernando Rodney earned his 36th save.
Romero threw 4 2/3 shutout innings with one hit and four walks allowed in his inaugural start after being recalled Saturday night. In an odd coincidence, he made his debut as a starter on Sept. 22, just like fellow Rays left-handers David Price (2008) and Matt Moore (2011).
Romero was removed in the fifth with a 1-0 lead and two runners on base after Kelly Johnson muffed a Brian Roberts grounder at third base. Fellow rookie Wil Myers had helped preserve Romero's lead in the inning with a sterling over-the-shoulder catch of a Michael More liner to deep right and Nick Markakis on first via a one-out walk.
The Rays took a 3-0 lead in the sixth inning by exceling at the minutia that apparently makes them a postseason team and the Orioles, increasingly, not. Desmond Jennings (2-for-3) led off with a bunt single before Ben Zobrist drew a walk on a Scott Feldman wild pitch, putting runners at first and third. Matt Joyce's sacrifice fly to left gave the Rays a 2-0 lead. Zobrist stole second before Myers (2-for-4) singled, putting runners on first and third. Zobrist scored for a 3-0 lead on a James Loney single to left.
Orioles starter Feldman (12-11) allowed three earned runs on six hits and two walks in 6 1/3 innings. He struck out seven. Feldman settled after allowing a David DeJesus homer leading off the game and wasn't threatened again until the sixth.
NOTES: Rays 3B Evan Longoria did not start on Sunday. Johnson started at third base, but Longoria placed him in the eighth. ... C Wieters, who had Saturday off after catching all 18 innings on Friday, returned behind the plate on Sunday. ... Romero became the 21st pitcher to make his major league debut for the Rays as a starter. He was the 10th different starter for the Rays this season -- their most in one season since 2006 (12). ... If RHP Chris Archer wins on Monday, the Rays would become the first major league team to possess a rookie with 10 or more wins in five straight seasons since the 1947-52 Philadelphia A's, who accomplished the feat in six straight seasons. ... Entering play on Sunday, the Orioles had led in 44 of 73 losses, the highest percentage this season in MLB. ... With their next win, the Orioles will assure consecutive winning seasons for the first time since 1996-97. ... CF Jennings was removed for a pinch runner after reporting a tight left hamstring beating out a bunt base hit in the sixth inning.