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Picture quite bright for Rays

Magic number is 4 for AL East title

Associated Press / September 23, 2008
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The Tampa Bay Rays had just beaten the Baltimore Orioles, and all the televisions in the clubhouse were tuned to the game between the Red Sox and Cleveland.

That's right, the once-lowly Rays are in a pennant race. They're scoreboard-watching, checking out the competition on TV, and doing their part to make their first trip to the playoffs as AL East champions.

Jason Bartlett had two of Tampa Bay's three hits, and the Rays inched closer to their first division title with a 4-2 victory in Baltimore last night.

After the Red Sox lost, reducing Tampa Bay's magic number to four, a roar resonated throughout the clubhouse.

"It was a nice, happy ending," manager Joe Maddon said. "It's exciting."

Any combination of Tampa Bay wins and Red Sox losses totaling four would give the Rays their first AL East title. The Rays, already assured a place in the postseason, lead the Red Sox by 2 1/2 games.

Tampa Bay managed only two hits over the first eight innings, but both were huge. Akinori Iwamura singled in two runs in the fifth, and Bartlett doubled in the tiebreaking run in the seventh off Rocky Cherry (0-3) following an error by second baseman Brian Roberts and a walk to Eric Hinske.

Carlos Pena picked up his 100th RBI on a bases-loaded walk in the seventh, when the Rays scored two unearned runs to take a 4-2 lead.

Tampa Bay's David Price began his first big league start with four hitless innings, but the lefthander gave up two runs in the fifth and was lifted in the sixth. Price, the top overall pick in the 2007 amateur draft, allowed one earned run and four hits in 5 1/3 innings.

The Rays (93-62) are one win shy of tying the 1991 Atlanta Braves for most victories by a team that had the worst record in the majors one year earlier.

Phillies 6, Braves 2 - Pat Burrell hit a three-run homer in the eighth and NL East-leading Philadelphia beat visiting Atlanta for its 10th win in 11 games.

The Phillies reduced their magic number for clinching their second straight NL East title to four after the Mets lost to the Cubs to fall 2 1/2 games back.

Cubs 9, Mets 5 - Jason Marquis became the second pitcher to hit a grand slam against the Mets this season, and visiting Chicago clinched home-field advantage throughout the NL playoffs with a victory that damaged New York's postseason chances. The Mets had their wild-card lead cut to one game over idle Milwaukee.

Diamondbacks 4, Cardinals 2 - Brandon Webb won his 22d game and Stephen Drew homered to help visiting Arizona move two games behind the idle Dodgers in the NL West.

Reds 7, Marlins 5 - Joey Votto homered and doubled, helping host Cincinnati beat Florida, which remained five games behind New York in the NL wild-card race.

In other games: Ervin Santana (16-6) allowed one run and five hits to match his career high for wins, and Francisco Rodriguez got three outs to extend his major league record for saves to 61 as the Los Angeles Angels beat the Seattle Mariners, 2-1, to set a franchise record for road wins (48) . . . Mike Aviles drove in two runs as the visiting Kansas City Royals beat the Tigers, 6-2 . . . Travis Buck hit an RBI single in the 11th inning and the visiting Oakland Athletics beat the Texas Rangers, 4-3.

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