BALTIMORE (AP) -- With every victory, the Tampa Bay Rays seemingly reach another milestone and put a bit more distance between themselves and that sorry franchise known as the Devil Rays.
Matt Garza allowed three hits in six innings, Carl Crawford snapped a tie with a two-run single in the seventh and the surging Rays defeated the Baltimore Orioles 4-2 on Thursday.Tampa Bay took two of three to win a third straight series and climb four games over .500 (16-12) for only the third time in its 11-year history. The team has never been five games over the break-even point, but it appears it's only a matter of time before that hurdle is cleared."I like the way they're handling the whole thing," manager Joe Maddon said. "They are coming out on a daily basis and believe they can win that game regardless of who we're playing or who is pitching."Tampa Bay dropped the "Devil" from its nickname this season, and this team is thus far nothing like those that spent much of the last decade in last place. The current version is battling Boston for the top spot in the AL East, and Tampa Bay is eagerly looking forward to a weekend series against the Red Sox, whom they swept at home a week ago."We've never been in that position before," Crawford said. "It's exciting."Adam Jones homered for the Orioles, who have lost four of five. Baltimore did not get a hit after the fourth inning; its only baserunner over that span was Brian Roberts, who drew a walk in the fifth."It was a well-pitched game on both sides," Orioles manager Dave Trembley said, "but Garza was better."Tampa Bay center fielder B.J. Upton left the game with a strained left shoulder, an injury that occurred while he was batting in the fifth inning. He leads the team with 22 RBIs and is one of only two Rays (with Crawford) to appear in all 28 games."I feel good. It's happened five of the six seasons I have played and once in high school," Upton said. "It's not a big deal. This is the best it's ever felt afterward. Should only be a day or two."Making his second start since returning from the 15-day disabled list with right arm nerve irritation, Garza (1-0) enjoyed his longest and most effective outing of the season. Except for the fourth inning, when Jones homered after a two-out double by Aubrey Huff, the right-hander allowed only one runner past first base."I just wanted to go out there and not beat myself," Garza said. "Keep throwing strikes and let them make the contact."Garza is 4-0 lifetime against the Orioles and 5-13 against everyone else.Dan Wheeler retired all six batters he faced and Troy Percival worked a perfect ninth for his sixth save this season and 330th overall, tying John Wetteland for 10th place on the career list.Signed as a free agent during the offseason, Percival had a feeling he was part of something special back in March."Considering the past the organization has had with not winning, they are handling this with a lot of composure," he said. "I first saw in spring training that we could compete with anybody. ... Right now we're playing good baseball."It was 2-all before Tampa Bay pulled ahead in the seventh against Brian Burres (3-2). Shawn Riggans walked and Jason Bartlett singled, and after Jones mishandled the ball in center, the runners advanced to second and third. Jamie Walker entered and struck out Akinori Iwamura before Crawford lined a single up the middle."I wish I hadn't walked the leadoff guy in the seventh inning. That's not the way I want to start off an inning," said Burres, now 0-3 with a 9.64 ERA in 11 lifetime appearances against Tampa Bay.Upton hit an RBI double in the first inning, and Jonny Gomes made it 2-0 in the fourth with his third homer of the season. Jones tied it with his second home run, a drive to left-center on a 1-1 pitch."It felt good, because in Seattle and Chicago, I hit two off the wall," Jones said. "Finally, I got one to go over the wall."
Roberts went 4-for-9 with four walks in the series. He has an 11-game hitting streak. ... Garza has yielded three homers this season, all of them to the Orioles. ... Tampa Bay was previously four games over .500 in 1998 (10-6) and 1999 (11-7).