BALTIMORE (AP) — Zach Eflin and two relievers combined on a two-hitter, Brandon Lowe and Harold Ramírez homered, and the Tampa Bay Rays beat the Baltimore Orioles 7-1 on Friday night to pull into a virtual tie atop the AL East.
Tampa Bay, which has won nine of 11 and 18 of 24, has erased a season-high four-game deficit in a span of six days thanks in part to winning the first two of a four-game series against Baltimore.
Heston Kjerstad homered leading off the sixth — his first major league hit — for the Orioles, who have dropped four in a row to match their longest skid of the season. Baltimore (91-56) still leads the Rays (92-57) by percentage points in the division race.
Kjerstad’s homer was the only hit Eflin (15-8) surrendered in seven innings.
“He was pretty outstanding,” Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash said. “He’s come up big for us all season long. To date, you can probably make the case this is the biggest game of the year for us. He certainly had the right mentality, the approach, the efficiency, the willingness to just kind of attack. They threw out a really tough lineup against him and he navigated it really well.”
Eflin, who leads the AL in victories, allowed just one baserunner in the first five innings. Gunnar Henderson reached on third baseman Isaac Paredes’ fielding error to lead off the first, but was erased two batters later when Anthony Santander grounded into a double play.
“It was probably the most mellow I’ve been all year, pre-start,” Eflin said. “Those are normally pretty fun days, honestly. It’s really easy to overthink this game, and I’m at the point in my career where I just go out there and execute. I don’t worry about results, because that’s a long, dark, deep hole. I just go out and be a competitor and have fun and see where it takes me.”
Eflin’s bid to throw the second no-hitter in Rays history and first since Matt Garza’s in 2010 ended when Kjerstad smashed a cutter to right field. It was the first big league start for Kjerstad, who made his debut Thursday as a pinch-hitter.
“I don’t think he threw a ball where he didn’t want to the entire night,” Baltimore manager Brandon Hyde said. “He was getting the ball into our left-handers, and he was also keeping us honest away. He made the one sort-of mistake. Kjerstad put a good swing on it, (but he) pretty much carved us up.”
Eflin struck out eight and threw 60 of his 84 pitches for strikes after lasting just five innings in back-to-back starts to begin the month.
“I think pretty much everything felt pretty good,” Eflin said. “It was kind of one of those games where (catcher René) Pinto would call a pitch and I would most of the time execute it, which is what I try to do every time but I hadn’t been able to do that the past couple outings.”
Jake Diekman walked Aaron Hicks and yielded Cedric Mullins’ single to begin the eighth but struck out the next three batters. Chris Devenski pitched a perfect ninth.
The teams combined for two baserunners in the first three innings before Tampa Bay got to Baltimore starter Jack Flaherty. Lowe led off the fourth with a homer to right-center, and Manuel Margot later added an RBI single.
Flaherty (8-9) was lifted after surrendering back-to-back singles to begin the fifth. Jacob Webb allowed Lowe’s sacrifice fly, but escaped further damage.
Baltimore reliever DL Hall gave up three consecutive hits to open the sixth, including Margot’s RBI double. Ramírez, pinch hitting for Luke Raley, then blasted Bryan Baker’s first pitch to left-center to make it 7-0.
“I know I got that ball pretty good, so I just felt really happy,” said Ramírez, who added an elevated bat flip as a flourish.
Orioles: RHP Félix Bautista (elbow) played catch before the game. … Hyde said 1B Ryan Mountcastle (shoulder) was feeling better after leaving Wednesday’s game and sitting Thursday.
Former Baltimore OF Adam Jones was honored before the game, hours after ceremonially retiring with the franchise with which he spent the bulk of his career.
Jones played 11 of his 14 seasons with Baltimore, earning five All-Star appearances, four Gold Gloves and one Silver Slugger award. He was a key part of playoff teams in 2012, 2014 and 2016. Since the franchise moved to Baltimore in 1954, Jones ranks fourth among Orioles in hits (1,781) and fifth in homers (263), RBIs (866) and runs (875).
Rays: RHP Tyler Glasnow (9-5, 3.15 ERA) is 0-1 with a 6.35 ERA in two starts against Baltimore this season.
Orioles: RHP Grayson Rodriguez (5-4, 4.88) is 3-2 with a 2.95 ERA in 10 starts since returning to the majors on July 17.