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Rays Take First Place With 8-4 Victory Over The Orioles

June 3, 2012; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Matt Moore (55) talks with catcher Jose Molina (28) in the dugout against the Baltimore Orioles at Tropicana Field.  Mandatory Credit: Jeff Griffith-US PRESSWIRE
June 3, 2012; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Matt Moore (55) talks with catcher Jose Molina (28) in the dugout against the Baltimore Orioles at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Griffith-US PRESSWIRE

The Rays defeated the Orioles 8-4 thanks to the offense, poor Orioles defense, and a strong performance by Matt Moore who worked 6 solid innings giving up 2R/1ER on 7 hits while striking out 4 and walking 3 in improving his record to 2-5. Jake Arrieta took the loss working only 4.2 innings giving up 4R/4ER on only 2 hits striking out 3 and walking 4 dropping his record to 2-7.

The Rays end the day in first place in the AL East by 1 game over the Baltimore Orioles, 1.5 games over the Yankees, and 3 games ahead of the Blue Jays and Red Sox. It has been a crazy year in the AL East - on April 30th the Rays were 15-8 and held a 3.5 game lead over the 11-11 Boston Red Sox. Today, the Rays are the same 8 games over .500 (31-23) and lead the Boston Red Sox who are 2 games over .500 by 3 games.

This is the latest an American League division has been separated by 3 or fewer games since division realignment in 1994. Since realignment the latest date when the top 5 teams of a division were separated by 3 games was the NL Central on July 2, 2009.

Matt Moore appears to be turning a corner. In his last two outings he has worked 13IP giving up 4R/3ER, while striking out 14K and walking 4. Joe Maddon removed Moore after only 93 pitches (62 for strikes) which reminded me of how Maddon used to handle young guys by getting them out of the game on a high note to give them something to build on. Additionally, one could say that Moore's 93 pitches were thrown with a higher amount of stress since there were baserunners in each of his 6 innings. There were a number of visits to the mound today by Jose Molina and Jim Hickey. Could the Rays be looking to slow Moore down before his struggles consume him? I don't know the answer to that but it is nice to see a veteran catcher taking a young pitcher under his wing.

Carlos Pena had a productive day out of the leadoff spot driving in a run with a sacrifice fly and drawing two walks. Hopefully, this will be the last day that we see a lineup that has Pena's name etched in at the top as Desmond Jennings should be set to return to the Rays lineup vs the Yankees on Tuesday. I'm guessing that Maddon returns to his September lineup with DJ/BJ at the top but others may feel that not to be the case.

A lot of discussion about the Rays against left handed pitching in 2012 - especially heading to New York to see Andy Pettitte and C.C. Sabathia. Against left handed starters the Rays have a record of 8-11 while a much better record of 23-12 against right handed starters. Although the story may be that left handed pitchers shut the Rays down the numbers don't support that story. Entering Sunday the Rays had a slash line of .233/.330/.378 vs LHP and .239/.317/.396 vs RHP.

Game Details After The Jump

The game started off with an all too familiar tone. The Rays fell behind early when Matt Wieters delivered a solo homer off Matt Moore to begin the 2nd inning and Jake Arrieta retired the first 9 Rays hitters. Carlos Pena worked a walk to lead off the 4th inning and B.J. Upton followed with a single. After a wild pitch advanced Pena to 3rd and Upton to 2nd Matt Joyce lofted a sacrifice fly to centerfielder Adam Jones who overthrew the ball trying to nail the tagging Upton which allowed Upton to come home and score and the Rays were up 2-1.

Endy Chavez reached base on a throwing error by shortstop Elliot Johnson to lead off the fifth inning and advanced to second on a groundout by Adam Jones. With first base open the Rays elected to pitch around Matt Wieters and face Mark Reynolds who lined a single to score Chavez and tie the score at 2-2.

With one out in the fifth Will Rhymes and Elliot Johnson drew back to back walks and Jose Molina sent what looked like a double play ball to 3rd baseman Steve Tolleson but Elliot Johnson came hustled down to second and used a (legal) aggressive slide to break up the double play. Carlos Pena walked to load the bases and B.J. Upton laced a double down the left field line to drive in Rhymes and Molina to give the Rays a 4-2 lead.

Ben Zobrist led off the 6th for the Rays with a double and advanced to third on a groundout by Luke Scott. Zobrist scored after a pickoff attempt by Matt Wieters hit him in the back causing the ball to ricochet into the outfield. With one out Hideki Matsui singled and was replaced by pinch runner Rich Thompson. With Will Rhymes due up Buck Showalter went to right handed pitcher Luis Ayala and Joe Maddon recognizing the 2011 reverse splits of Ayala pinch hit Sean Rodriguez who singled with Thompson advancing to 2nd. Elliot Johnson chased Thompson home on a single and Sean Rodriguez came home when Steve Tolleson could not handle a ground ball off the bat of Jose Molina. Elliot Johnson had advanced to 3rd on the Tolleson error came home to score on a sacrifice fly off the bat of Carlos Pena to give the Rays an 8-2 lead.

Mark Reynolds led off the 8th inning with a homer off Wade Davis to cut the lead to 8-3 and in the 9th Matt Wieters singled off Fernando Rodney to drive in Robert Andino to cut the lead to 8-4 before Rodney got Mark Reynolds to ground out to shortstop Elliot Johnson to end the game.