ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Charlie Morton is proving his worth to the Tampa Bay Rays.
The 35-year-old right-hander, signed to a $30 million, two-year contract in free agency, remained unbeaten with his new team on Monday night, limiting the Oakland Athletics to two hits over seven shutout innings of a 6-2 victory.
The win, Tampa Bay’s sixth in seven games, nudged the Rays ahead of the New York Yankees for first place in the AL East.
Morton (8-0, 2.10 ERA) is one of the reasons the budget-minded team with one of baseball’s lowest payrolls feels this could be a special season.
“He’s a huge pickup for this team,” centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier said after making a leaping catch at the wall to rob Oakland’s Jurickson Profar of an extra-base hit and then delivering a two-run homer for a 4-0 lead in the seventh inning.
“The way Charlie Morton has been going for us all year, the spark and dominance he has brought to the table,” Kiermaier added, “I wanted to make that play for him.”
Brandon Lowe homered for the third time in two days, snapping a scoreless tie in the sixth inning and helping the Rays take a half-game lead over Yankees, who were rained out at home where they were to play the Mets.
Morton (8-0) extended his career-best winning streak to 11 games dating to Aug. 17, when he was with the Houston Astros.
The stretch covers 21 starts — 14 of them with Tampa Bay since signing as a free agent — and is the longest active streak in the major leagues ahead of Milwaukee Davies, who’s 7-0 over his past 14 starts.
Morton allowed two hits — singles to Marcus Semien in the first and third innings — and retired the last 14 batters he faced. In addition to Kiermaier’s highlight-reel catch, Morton benefited from Tommy Pham also making a leaping catch at the wall in left field.
“I’m not surprised by it anymore. They are awesome,” Morton said of the defensive gems. “You get so much confidence in the guys behind you. I feel like if a ball is hit really, really hard, you still have a chance with those guys out there.”
Stephen Piscotty ruined Tampa Bay’s bid for a shutout, driving in Mark Canha with an RBI double and then scoring on Robbie Grossman’s run-scoring single in the ninth.
Lowe, who homered twice in Sunday’s 6-1 win in Boston, hit a two-run shot off Tanner Anderson (0-1), who was promoted from Triple-A Las Vegas to make his debut with Oakland, which acquired him from Pittsburgh last November.
Kiermaier also had a two-run homer for Tampa Bay, going deep against reliever Yusmeiro Petit in the seventh inning. Ji-Man Choi made it 6-0 with a two-run homer off Joakim Soria in the eighth.
Anderson, who went to high school in nearby Tampa, made six relief appearances for the Pirates last season. He allowed two runs and three hits over 5 2/3 innings in his first big league start.
“My first dream was to play at this level, and it was awesome when that happened last year,” said Anderson, who had 40 family members and friends in the stands.
“But my second dream is to pitch in Tropicana (Field), so it was awesome,” Anderson added. “A dream come true. Had a lot of support here, which is really cool.”
Attendance was announced as 16,091, a figure helped in part by the Rays putting 5,000 tickets on sale for $5 apiece last week.
The discounted tickets, available on the internet for a limited time, were made available as part of a flash sale, including the first five dates of a seven-game homestand that began Monday.
The allotment for two of the games — against the Los Angeles Angels on Thursday and Friday — sold out before last week’s deadline.
The Rays entered Monday night averaging 13,802 — 29th among 30 major league teams.
Rays pitching prospect Brent Honeywell underwent successful surgery to repair the fracture in his right elbow. The operation was performed by Dr. James Andrews in Pensacola, Florida. The team said ulnar collateral ligament was not damaged and that if Honeywell’s recovery goes as hoped, the right-hander could resume throwing next January. Honeywell has been sidelined from the spring of 2018, recovering from Tommy John surgery.
The Athletics spent an extra 3½ hours in the clubhouse after Sunday’s game at Texas and didn’t arrive in Florida until after 3 a.m. because their plane was damaged during a thunderstorm. That followed an early morning arrival Friday for a four-game series with the Rangers that included a day-night doubleheader Saturday and a rain delay Sunday. “Feels like we’ve had five straight nights of naps,” manager Bob Melvin said.
Athletics RHP Mike Fiers (5-3) will start the middle date of the three-game series Tuesday night. Opener Ryne Stanek (0-1) will take the ball first for the Rays.