BALTIMORE (AP) — Denied a five-game sweep and a chance to lengthen their lead in the AL East, the Tampa Bay Rays took consolation in receiving another fine performance from a member of their impressive rotation.
John Means struck out a career-high 12 in a pitching duel with Tampa Bay lefty Ryan Yarbrough, and the Baltimore Orioles stalled the Rays’ push toward the division title with a 2-1 victory Sunday.
Yarbrough (1-4) gave up two runs and five hits with eight strikeouts over seven-plus innings. That wasn’t enough to offset Tampa Bay’s 16 strikeouts, or their four measly hits against four Baltimore pitchers.
“Yarbs was outstanding,” manager Kevin Cash said. “That’s the frustration. Not that we didn’t hit.”
If Yarbrough can pitch that well in a rotation that includes Blake Snell, Tyler Glasgow and Charlie Morton, the Rays might be very tough to beat in the postseason.
“We’re going to go as they’re going to go,” Cash said. “When their talent comes out, we’re pretty special.”
Means (2-3) allowed three hits and a run in 5 2/3 innings. The left-hander tied a team record with seven consecutive strikeouts, matching the mark set by Sammy Stewart in 1978.
The 12 strikeouts were five more than his previous career high.
“I didn’t know it was that many. I knew that I was getting some swings and misses,” he said. “I just had the fastball going today. Sometimes you have it, sometimes you don’t.”
Oh, he definitely had it in this one — and more.
“When he’s got the changeup and two different breaking balls, he’s going to punch more people out just cause they can’t sit on the elevated fastball or the changeup,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “He really located his fastball well, and then mixed well.”
Renato Núñez hit a two-run single in the first inning for the Orioles, who made the best of five hits after dropping the previous four games of the series while being outscored 18-9.
Despite the loss, Tampa Bay has still won seven of 10 and came within a few solid hits of a sweep. The good news was that the second-place Yankees lost to Boston, reducing Tampa Bay’s magic number to clinch to three.
The Rays are also locked in a race with the White Sox for the best record in the AL — a distinction that provides the No. 1 seed in the playoffs.
“We want to get the East and we want to play at home,” Cash said. “As far as the detail of the seeding, I personally have not spent one second thinking about that.”
The Orioles got three singles in the first, including a two-run bloop by Núñez over a drawn-up infield. That was their last hit until Núñez singled with two outs in the sixth.
The Rays also struggled at the plate. Willy Adames homered off Means in the fourth to cut the deficit to 2-1, but that was perhaps Mean’s only bad pitch.
“He wasn’t doing a lot of mistakes,” Adames said. “He gave me one and I was able to put a strong swing on it.”
Dillon Tate struck out two in an inning of work and Hunter Harvey had two strikeouts in 1 1/3 innings. César Valdez worked a perfect ninth for his second save.
The Orioles finished 13-20 at Camden Yards, which was devoid of fans from beginning to end.
Rays: C Mike Zunino (left oblique strain) came off the injured list and got his first start since Aug. 25. “Z is a big part of our team,” Cash said. “It’s really nice to have him back, and we’ll have enough time now to build him back up.” ... 3B Mike Brosseau wasn’t in the starting lineup, even though he usually plays against lefties. “He’s fine. His body is just a little banged up,” Cash said.
Orioles: SS José Iglesias got the day off after being struck in the left wrist with a fastball thrown by Travis Glasgow on Saturday night. X-rays were negative, but Iglesias was “really sore,” according to Hyde.
Rays: The team’s quest to win the AL East heads north to New York, where Tampa Bay opens a three-game series against the Mets on Monday.
Orioles: After a day off Monday, Baltimore opens its final road trip of the season with a three-game set in Boston.
More AP MLB: apnews.com/MLB and twitter.com/AP_Sports