After getting a critical three-city road trip off to a good start, the Tampa Bay Rays head to the West Coast for the first of three meetings with the playoff-contending Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim beginning tonight at Angel Stadium.
The Rays won the first two tests of this nine-game trek, which also includes a stop in Oakland to battle the surging Athletics, by outscoring fellow American League East member Baltimore by a 13-2 score. Tampa Bay couldn't complete the sweep, however, with the Orioles using a five-run fifth inning to come up with a 6-2 victory on Thursday.
James Shields, who's been rumored to be a target of the Angels leading up to next week's trade deadline, struck out 10 Baltimore hitters in a six-inning stint but faltered in the fifth, surrendering three hits, two walks and hitting a batter during the fateful frame. The big blow was a bases-loaded double by Chris Davis that plated three runners and gave the O's a 5-0 advantage.
"It came down to two hits and me walking too many guys," Shields, who issued a season-high five free passes on the afternoon, told MLB.com. "I felt I was executing my pitches for the most part all day, besides the walks."
Sam Fuld was the lone hitting star for Tampa Bay, collecting three hits in four at-bats and driving in both Rays runs with a seventh-inning double.
Despite the loss, the Rays enter tonight's tilt just 2 1/2 games back in the race for the AL's two Wild Card berths. The Angels are currently atop those standings and trail first-place Texas by five games in the AL West.
Tampa Bay may be able to gain some ground if their recent success in this series holds true. The Rays have topped Anaheim six consecutive times, sweeping a three-game set at the Big A in June of last season and also taking all three matchups between the clubs at Tropicana Field from Apr. 24-26.
They'll face a challenge this evening, however, from Dan Haren, who was sharp in his return from the disabled list this past Sunday and owns a 6-3 record with a 2.69 earned run average over 11 lifetime starts against Tampa.
Haren was sent to the DL for the first time in his career with a back strain and was sidelined nearly three weeks. He showed little effect from the layoff, though, after holding Texas' potent lineup to two runs and only three hits through six innings to help the Angels post a 7-4 win.
The three-time All-Star had been struggling mightily prior to being shelved, recording an ugly 8.67 ERA and allowing a .364 batting average in five starts that preceded his being placed on the DL.
Anaheim has gone 4-2 thus far on a nine-game homestand and was last in action on Wednesday, when the Angels banged out 17 hits and three homers in an 11-6 verdict over Kansas City that enabled ace Jered Weaver to move to 13-1 on the season.
Torii Hunter led the charge with a 4-for-5, three-RBI performance at the plate that included a solo home run. Mike Trout added a two-run shot later on and finished 2-for-4 with three runs scored, while Alberto Callaspo ended with three hits and an RBI.
Weaver lasted just five innings and threw 101 pitches, but the All-Star hurler struck out eight Royals and yielded two runs on only three hits while benefiting from an early 8-0 lead after the first four frames.
"It was the offense that came through today," Weaver said afterward. "It took a little of the pressure off me. It's fun to see the guys swinging the bats the way they do."
Anaheim was able to put up runs at well despite first baseman Albert Pujols sitting out the contest with a sore elbow. The three-time National League MVP was hit by a pitch in Tuesday's 4-1 loss to the Royals, but x-rays came up negative and he's expected to be back in the lineup tonight.
The Angels will try to continue their hot hitting this evening against struggling Tampa starter Alex Cobb, who's 2-7 with a 5.72 ERA over his last nine starts and hasn't made it out of the fourth inning in either of his past two appearances.
Cobb exited after only two innings in a loss to Seattle on Saturday after taking a line drive off his right shin, permitting two runs before departing. He was removed for ineffectiveness in his prior start, getting tagged for three runs (2 earned) and walking five through 3 1/3 frames against Cleveland on July 16.
The 24-year-old did go 1-0 with a 4.22 ERA in two matchups with the Angels last season, including an effort in Anaheim in which he fired 6 1/3 innings of one-run ball to earn his first major league win.