St. Petersburg, FL - Willy Aybar drove in a pair of runs, and the Tampa Bay Rays moved into first place in the AL East with a 5-3 victory over the Seattle Mariners.
Jason Bartlett, Ben Zobrist and Kelly Shoppach each had a pair of hits for the Rays, who took a half-game lead over the Yankees after the latter lost to Boston. Tampa Bay, which is coming off a four-game split with New York, possesses a much easier schedule than the Yanks. While the Rays play Seattle, Baltimore and Kansas City to finish the season, New York has to deal with the Red Sox twice and Toronto.
Jeff Niemann (11-7) snapped a five-start winless skid after allowing three runs, seven hits and a walk in 5 2/3 innings. Rafael Soriano set the single- season franchise mark with his 44th save of 2010.
Adam Moore went 2-for-4 with two RBI for the Mariners, who have lost 11 of their last 14 games. Jason Vargas (9-12) dropped his seventh consecutive start, yielding five runs, six hits and four walks in just 4 1/3 frames.
After Seattle tied the game with a two-run fourth, the Rays went ahead for good with a three-run fifth.
B.J. Upton worked a leadoff walk and stole second. Bartlett's base hit put runners on the corners before Aybar's one-out single plated Upton for a 3-2 advantage.
Zobrist followed with a bunt single to score Bartlett, and Ryan Rowland-Smith came out of the bullpen to get out of the jam. A passed ball, however, allowed Aybar to score for a 5-2 lead.
The Mariners got a run back in the sixth on Moore's RBI single, but Grant Balfour and Joaquin Benoit pitched a scoreless seventh and eighth, respectively, for the Rays.
Soriano pitched around a one-out walk in the ninth to lock down the win.
Tampa Bay got on the board in the second on back-to-back doubles by Zobrist and Shoppach leading off the inning, and Aybar's sacrifice fly in the third made it a 2-0 game.
Seattle, though, fought back with a two-run fourth.
Chone Figgins singled and stole second, and Franklin Gutierrez cut the Mariners' deficit to 2-1 with a one-out infield single. Gutierrez swiped second before Moore's two-out single up the middle tied the game at 2-2.
Soriano broke Roberto Hernandez's 1999 mark for saves in a season with the Rays...Tampa Bay is 36-17 in games where the opposition starts a lefty...Niemann is 3-0 in five career starts against Seattle...The Rays' magic number to clinch a playoff spot was reduced to three with the win...Tampa Bay leads the season series, 6-1...The record for most consecutive starts lost by a Mariners pitcher is eight, held by Randy Johnson, Mike Parrott and Rick Honeycutt.