Tampa moved back into first place in the division with a win in the opener of this set on Friday, as Willy Aybar drove in a pair of runs to lead the Rays to a 5-3 victory. Jason Bartlett, Ben Zobrist and Kelly Shoppach each had a pair of hits for the Rays, who took a half-game lead over the New York Yankees after the latter lost to Boston last night.
Coming off a four-game split with New York, Tampa Bay possesses a much easier remaining schedule than the Yanks. While the Rays play Seattle, Baltimore and Kansas City to finish the season, New York has five more games with the Red Sox and a series with Toronto.
The Rays are also tied with the AL Central champion Minnesota Twins for the best record in the American League at 92-61.
"Our goal is to have the best record, our goal is to have home-field advantage, and our goal is to win the World Series," said Rays manager Joe Maddon. "We have short-term (goals) and little bit longer than short-term (goals). But we want the best record."
Jeff Niemann (11-7) snapped a five-start winless skid after allowing three runs, seven hits and a walk in 5 2/3 innings. Rafael Soriano set the Rays single-season franchise mark with his 44th save of 2010.
Soriano is now 22-for-22 in save chances at Tropicana Field this season, and leads the majors in save percentage at home since 2008, converting 35 in a row while a member of both the Atlanta Braves and Rays.
Adam Moore went 2-for-4 with two RBI for the Mariners, who have lost 11 of their last 14 games. Jason Vargas (9-12) dropped his seventh consecutive start, yielding five runs, six hits and four walks in just 4 1/3 frames.
Heading to the hill for the Rays tonight will be righty Matt Garza, who is 14-9 on the year. Garza lost to the Yankees on Monday, as he was hit for seven runs (five earned) and eight hits in five innings
Over his last three starts, Garza has gone 0-2 and surrendered 17 runs in 14 innings to raise his earned run average to 4.01 on the year.
Garza has faced the Mariners six times and is 2-1 with a 5.97 ERA in those games.
Seattle, meanwhile, will counter with righty Doug Fister, who has won two of his last three starts. Fister beat the Texas Rangers on Sunday, as he allowed just one run in seven innings.
Fister beat the Rays back on May 14 and is 1-0 with a 1.50 ERA in two games (one start) against them.
Tampa Bay swept a three-game set in Seattle from May 4-6 before taking two of three at home from the Mariners later in the month.