ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Willy Aybar drove in two runs, Rafael Soriano set a team record with his 44th save of the season and the Tampa Bay Rays beat the Seattle Mariners 5-3 on Friday night.
Tampa Bay reduced its magic number to three to clinch the franchise’s second playoff berth and moved into first place in the A.L. East by a half game after New York lost to Boston.
Aybar hit a tiebreaking RBI single and later scored on a passed ball during a three-run fifth as the Rays went ahead 5-2. Ben Zobrist drove in the other run with a bunt single.
Soriano, the fourth Tampa Bay reliever, pitched the ninth to break Roberto Hernandez’s franchise save record set in 1999.
Rays third baseman Evan Longoria is scheduled to miss the three-game series because of a left quadriceps strain and will be evaluated on Monday.
Seattle’s Jason Vargas (9-12) lost his seventh straight start, which is one off the team record held by Randy Johnson (1992) and Rick Honeycutt (1980).
Vargas gave up five runs and six hits over 4 1/3 innings.
Jeff Niemann (11-7) allowed three runs and seven hits in 5 2-3 innings and won for the first time since returning from a strained right shoulder on Aug. 25. The Rays right-hander had been 0-4 with 14.43 ERA over his previous five starts after a 20-game stint on the disabled list.
Adam Moore had a pair of run-scoring singles for the Mariners, who are 23-53 on the road this season. Ichiro Suzuki went 2 for 5, giving him a major league-best 65 multi-hit games this year.
Kelly Shoppach put the Rays ahead 1-0 on a second-inning RBI double. Aybar made it 2-0 with a sacrifice fly in the third.
Seattle tied it at 2 on run-scoring singles by Franklin Gutierrez and Moore during the fourth. Moore pulled Seattle within 5-3 on a sixth-inning RBI that ended Niemann’s night.
The announced crowd was just 17,840.
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