ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Willy Aybar homered leading off the bottom of the ninth inning, giving the baseball-best Tampa Bay Rays a 3-2 victory over the Seattle Mariners on Saturday.
The Rays wiped out a 2-0 deficit in the eighth inning, then won it with Aybar’s drive to right-center on a 3-2 pitch from Jesus Colome (0-1).
Rafael Soriano (2-0) pitched a scoreless ninth in relief of James Shields to get the win.
Reid Brignac’s pinch-hit RBI single off reliever Brandon League trimmed Tampa Bay’s deficit to 2-1, and Jason Bartlett’s sacrifice left the Rays with runners at second and third with one out.
Carl Crawford was walked intentionally to load the bases before Ben Zobrist’s sacrifice fly tied it at 2.
The victory enabled the Rays to avoid falling into a tie with the New York Yankees for the best record in the majors. At 25-11, the AL East leaders are off to the best start in franchise history.
Seattle starter Jason Vargas limited the Rays to fifth-inning singles by Evan Longoria and Carlos Pena before B.J. Upton and Dioner Navarro singled to begin the eighth.
Mike Sweeney homered for the third straight game, and Ichiro Suzuki had two more hits for Seattle to match a career best with seven consecutive multihit games.
Shields allowed two runs and six hits over eight innings in his first start since being on the losing side of the perfect game by Oakland’s Dallas Braden last Sunday.
Sweeney homered leading off the third inning against Shields, who struck out 10 and walked none. Shields also hurt his cause in the first with an errant pickoff throw and a wild pitch that enabled Chone Figgins, who had doubled, to take third and score the game’s first run.
The Rays were second in the majors in runs entering Saturday, but they’ve sputtered offensively during an eight-game stretch following a sweep of the Mariners in Seattle from May 4-6.
Prior to the game, the Rays designated struggling slugger Pat Burrell for assignment and selected the contract of former Texas infielder Hank Blalock from Triple-A Durham, where two-time All-Star hit .349 in 26 games.
Vargas allowed two runs and four hits in seven-plus innings.