|A's, Rays square off headed in different directions|
One right-hander who just lost an unbeaten streak goes head-to-head with another who has started an impressive run when the Tampa Bay Rays and the host Oakland Athletics open a four-game series Thursday night.
The Rays' Charlie Morton (8-1, 2.37 ERA) blanked the A's on two hits over seven innings in a 6-2 win June 10 that opened a three-game set at Tampa Bay.
That win pushed the Rays nine games ahead of the A's in the American League wild-card race.
But the teams have headed in opposite directions the past nine days, with the Rays losing seven of nine while the A's won six of eight.
The first two of those results came June 11 and June 12, when the A's rebounded from the series-opening loss at Tampa Bay with 4-3 and 6-2 wins against the Rays.
The clubs, who battled for the AL's second wild card last season (the A's won the duel by seven games), now will begin the weekend series with the Rays up on the A's by just 4 1/2 games.
Morton will try to get Tampa Bay headed back in a positive direction after the Rays opened a 10-game trip with a three-game shellacking in New York, where they were outscored 21-4 by the Yankees.
Morton saw his 21-game unbeaten streak dating back to last August come to an end Saturday in a 5-3 loss to the Los Angeles Angels.
The right-hander had been 8-0 this season before the defeat, which he chalked up more to a few bad pitches rather than an overall poor performance.
"Those kinds of games, you make a couple of mistakes and you pay for them," he told the media afterward. "(The Angels) put some really good swings on those pitches."
With the win over the A's last week, Morton improved his career record against them to 2-1 with a 3.27 ERA in six starts. However, he has never won at Oakland, where he is 0-1 despite a fine 1.80 ERA in two outings.
Morton will be opposed by A's righty Frankie Montas (9-2, 2.85 ERA), who has gone 5-0 with a 2.77 ERA in his past eight starts.
He did not pitch in last week's series at Tampa Bay. In fact, he has pitched just one inning -- in relief -- in his career against the Rays, allowing one hit and no runs last year.
The A's will open the series riding the momentum of a three-game home sweep of the Baltimore Orioles, a set in which Oakland outscored the visitors 27-7.
The Athletics' hot stretch can be traced back to the consecutive wins at Tampa Bay, which came after Oakland had lost three of four, including the defeat at the hands of Morton.
"These guys showed last year they're fighters," A's manager Bob Melvin said after the series in St. Petersburg, Fla. "We've gone through some little bit tougher stretches this year and been tested, but these guys are really good about putting a game away and going out there and playing for that day, playing 100 percent and doing the same thing the next day no matter what happens."
--Field Level Media