ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Another one-run victory by the Baltimore Orioles pushed the AL East race to the final day of the season.
Chris Davis homered for the sixth straight game and the Orioles overcame a club-record 15 strikeouts by Tampa Bay pitcher James Shields to beat the Rays 1-0 Tuesday night.
Baltimore began the night one game behind the first-place New York Yankees, who rallied in the ninth against Boston to extend their game into extra innings.
“We’re not supposed to be here. So just go out and have fun and see what happens,” closer Jim Johnson said after the Orioles improved to 29-9 in one-run games.
“You have to win those games,” he added. “If you’re able to keep it close, you just try to find a way.”
Orioles rookie Miguel Gonzalez (9-4) limited the Rays to two singles over 6 1-3 innings. The right-hander walked two and struck out seven before manager Buck Showalter turned the game over to the bullpen.
Davis joined Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson as the only Baltimore players to homer in six consecutive games, connecting off Shields (15-10) in the fourth. The Orioles managed only one other hit — Nate McLouth’s sixth-inning single — in Shields’ 19th career complete game and third this season.
“He made one mistake, and fortunately Chris was on it,” Baltimore manager Buck Showalter said.
The Rays have lost 1-0 five times since Aug. 5 — twice to the Orioles.
“I hung a changeup. He’s a pretty good hitter. I think that was probably the farthest home run I’ve ever given up in my career,” Shields said. “I sent the bat boy over and told him to tell him, ‘Can you hit it any farther?’ Just joking around a little bit. He said something like, ‘I’m sorry. I’ll go and try and hit it 480 feet next time.’ I thought that was pretty funny.”
The Orioles, guaranteed at least a wild-card spot, clinched their first playoff berth in 15 years late Sunday.
The Rays won the opener of the three-game series Monday night to extend a late surge that kept them in contention for the second AL wild card, but they were eliminated from postseason contention when the Oakland Athletics beat Texas a few hours later to assure themselves at least a wild card.
Brian Matusz replaced Gonzalez after the starter struck out Jeff Keppinger to begin the seventh. Darren O’Day worked the eighth for the Orioles, and Johnson finished the two-hitter for his major league-leading 51st save.
Gonzalez pitched seven scoreless innings in his only previous start at Tropicana Field on Aug. 5, but was not involved in the decision in a game the Orioles won 1-0 in 10 innings. He limited the Rays to two hits and four walks in that outing and was even tougher on them this time.
Evan Longoria singled leading off the second against the right-hander. B.J. Upton drew a leadoff walk in the fourth and was stranded at second when Longoria flied out and Keppinger struck out. Chris Gimenez opened the sixth with Tampa Bay’s second hit, and Gonzalez walked Ben Zobrist with two outs before fanning Longoria to end the threat.
Shields was just as impressive, retiring 11 in a row before giving up Davis’ 33rd homer. The right-hander whiffed seven of the last nine batters he faced to finish with a flourish.
“I knew this was my last game and I wanted to let it all hang out. I wanted to end on a good note, end on a bang,” Shields said. “That was probably the best game of my career.”
Davis homered over the center-field wall on a 1-1 changeup with two outs in the fourth. Jackson homered in six straight games for the Orioles in July 1976.
“It kind of blows my mind to even be mentioned in the same breath as Reggie, but it’s more about the win than anything else,” Davis said. “I’m kind of glad to be the guy that’s coming through in this situation, but as long as we get the win I don’t care.”
NOTES: All-Star closer Fernando Rodney was selected as the Rays’ team MVP in a vote of local baseball writers covering the team. If the right-hander doesn’t give up an earned run in Wednesday night’s season finale, he will set a major league record for the lowest ERA by a relief pitcher working a minimum of 50 innings. Rodney got his 47th save Monday, lowering his ERA to 0.6053 in 74 1-3 innings. Dennis Eckersley set the record of 0.6136 for Oakland in 1990. … Rays pitchers have struck out 10 or more batters in a game 60 times this season. … Orioles RHP Jason Hammel, who threw a bullpen session Monday, is no longer restricted by his knee injury and is an option for the Orioles in the postseason, Showalter said. … RHP Kevin Gausman, Baltimore’s first-round draft pick out of LSU, visited the team and said he hopes to pitch in the big leagues next year. “That’s one of my goals, but it’s not up to me,” the 21-year-old said.
BLUE JAYS 4, TWINS 3: Joe Mauer’s bid for a fourth AL batting title took a blow on Tuesday night.
Chad Jenkins earned his first major league win, Kelly Johnson hit a two-run home run and the Toronto Blue Jays beat the Minnesota Twins 4-3.
Mauer, who won AL batting titles in 2006, 2008 and 2009, went hitless in three at-bats, dropping his average to .320.
Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera, meanwhile, picked up two more hits Tuesday after a four-hit showing Monday, boosting his league-leading average to .331. Angels rookie Mike Trout is second.
“Unless (Mauer) goes 9 for 9 tomorrow, he might not be able to catch (Cabrera),” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said.
Mauer acknowledged his chances look dim, but didn’t intend to give up his chase and sit out the final game.
“A little disappointing, yeah, but I’ll go out there and try to get some hits tomorrow,” he said.
Wednesday’s season finale also offers Mauer a chance to play his 147th game, a career high. His success this season has brought redemption after he was limited to 82 games because of injuries in 2011, hitting a career-low .287.
“I’m definitely proud of how many games I’ve played,” Mauer said. “It’s been a battle but it’s been pretty good.”
Mauer’s teammates have been pulling for him, too.
“We know how hard he’s worked to come back after having an injury plagued season last year,” outfielder Denard Span said.
Making his third career start, Jenkins (1-3) allowed two runs and five hits in five-plus innings. The right-hander walked one and struck out two.
“There were parts of this year where I honestly wasn’t sure whether I was going to get here,” Jenkins said. “Fortunately the Blue Jays gave me a chance and now I’m just trying to run with it.”
Gardenhire said Jenkins kept the Twins off balance with late movement on his fastball.
“Nice looking whip on the ball,” Gardenhire said. “Our hitters talked about some late jump. You can see the ball OK off him but with that late jump, we didn’t really square him up too many times.”
Aaron Loup, Steve Delabar and Darren Oliver all worked one inning before Casey Janssen finished for his 22nd save in 25 chances.
Minnesota’s fourth straight defeat, combined with Cleveland’s victory over the White Sox, ensured that the Twins will finish with the AL’s worst record for the second straight year. They went 63-99 in 2011.
The Blue Jays opened the scoring in the third when Adeiny Hechavarria led off with a double and came around on a single by Rajai Davis.
Toronto tacked on two more in the fourth. J.P. Arencibia hit a two-out single and Johnson followed with a homer to right-center off Anthony Swarzak, his 16th.
Johnson’s shot came one at-bat after he was caught looking in the second for his 159th strikeout of the season, matching Jose Canseco’s team record set in 1998.
Toronto used speed on the bases to open a 4-0 lead in the fifth. Anthony Gose drew a one-out walk and was running when Davis grounded to short. Gose went all the way to third as Davis was thrown out, and scored when Yunel Escobar followed with a base hit to left.
The Twins cut the deficit in half and chased Jenkins in the sixth. Eduardo Escobar led off with a single and Span swatted a two-run homer to right, his fourth.
Loup came on and gave up a single to Ben Revere. But Mauer struck out, Revere was caught stealing and Chris Parmalee grounded out.
Minnesota made it 4-3 with a run in the seventh off Delabar. Trevor Plouffe led off with a double, moved to third on a groundout and scored on a two-out double by Alexi Casilla.
Starting in place of Samuel Deduno, who left his last outing with an irritated left eye, Swarzak (3-6) gave up four runs and five hits in five innings. He walked three and struck out two.
“I think he got a little bit tired,” Gardenhire said of Swarzak, who had not started since May 25. “He made pitches and gave us an opportunity.”
NOTES: Blue Jays slugger Edwin Encarnacion (sore left shoulder and neck) did not start for the second straight game. … Revere had three singles but was picked off first base in both the sixth and eighth. … Twins reliever Luis Perdomo was struck by Davis’ comebacker in the eighth but remained in the game. … Toronto manager John Farrell said he expects his coaching staff to return intact next season. … Minnesota fell to 26-27 in one-run games. … Twins LHP Scott Diamond (12-8) faces RHP Brandon Morrow (9-7) in Wednesday’s season finale. Diamond, who was born in nearby Guelph, Ontario, will be pitching in Toronto for the first time.