ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — The Tampa Bay Rays are slipping in the AL East race.
Prince Fielder and Austin Jackson drove in runs to help the Detroit Tigers pull away from a sixth-inning tie to beat Tampa Bay 5-3 on Sunday.
The Rays have lost nine of 12, and find themselves a season-high 7½ games behind the division-leading New York Yankees. The two teams start a three-game series in Florida on Monday night.
“It’s been a really tough last couple weeks and we need to turn it around,” Tampa Bay’s Ben Zobrist said. “The Yankees coming in, that’s a perfect time to do it. This team never gets too down on themselves, and that’s been one of our calling cards. We’re going to keep backing each other up and playing hard and let things fall where they may.”
Tampa Bay dropped three of four to the Tigers, who are 12-3 over the last 15 games between the teams.
“I think overall we’ve done a decent job of keeping them in check,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “We just haven’t scored enough runs. They’ve been able to hold us down last year and this year. That’s the biggest problem we’ve had with the Tigers.”
Left-hander Drew Smyly (3-3) pitched five solid innings, allowing three runs and three hits to get his first win since May 25. The rookie walked one and struck out four.
Five different players drove in runs for the Tigers. Tampa Bay didn’t have a hit until the fifth inning.
Jackson snapped a 3-all tie with a RBI single off Alex Cobb (3-5). Fielder, voted as the starting first baseman for the AL All-Star team, singled off Jake McGee to make it 5-3 after the Tampa Bay reliever walked All-Star Miguel Cabrera intentionally with a runner on second base.
“Fielder had a great at-bat off a real nasty left-hander,” Detroit manager Jim Leyland said. “That was probably the biggest hit of the game. But that’s what big time players do.”
Ryan Raburn had a RBI single for Detroit in the fourth. Delmon Young and Alex Avila delivered sacrifice flies in the fifth off Cobb, who allowed five runs and eight hits in 5 1-3 innings.
“That’s a good hitting team,” Cobb said. “They made me pay for mistakes.”
The Rays led 1-0 despite not having a hit through three innings. Desmond Jennings drew a leadoff walk in the first, stole second base and advanced to third on a wild pitch before scoring on B.J. Upton’s sacrifice fly. The Tigers tied it in the fourth on Raburn’s RBI single, but wasted an opportunity to take control of the game.
Cobb kept the Rays in the game by regrouping after Raburn’s hit to work out of a bases-loaded jam, getting Don Kelly to hit into a force play at the plate, striking out Ramon Santiago and coaxing Jackson to ground into a force. The Tampa Bay starter wasn’t as fortunate when the Tigers loaded the bases with no outs again in the fifth.
Young’s sacrifice fly snapped a 1-all tie and Avila’s made it 3-1.
The Rays finally broke through against Smyly for two runs in the fifth. Zobrist doubled down the left-field line for the first hit off the left-hander and scored on Hideki Matsui’s one-out single. Molina followed with his run-scoring double for a short-lived 3-3 tie.
Four Detroit relievers combined to limited the Rays to two hits over four scoreless innings. Jose Valverde worked a perfect ninth for his 15th save in 18 opportunities.
NOTES: David Price and Fernando Rodney are Tampa Bay’s All-Star selections. It’s the third straight selection for Price. … Price, who left Friday night’s start against the Tigers after seven innings because of lower back tightness, threw a bullpen session. He expects to make his next scheduled start on Wednesday against the Yankees. … Rays RHP Jeremy Hellickson, hit on the right shin by Fielder’s liner in Saturday night’s game, will throw on Monday.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.