Nate Lowe homered and scored both runs against NL Cy Young Award contender Jacob deGrom, and the Tampa Bay Rays overcame 16 strikeouts to move closer to an AL East title by beating the New York Mets 2-1 Monday night.
The Rays can lock up their first division crown since 2010 with a win Tuesday or a loss by the Yankees against Toronto. Tampa Bay leads New York by 4 1/2 games with six days left in the regular season.
“We’re getting closer," manager Kevin Cash said. "We just have to keep wining. As much momentum as possible.”
DeGrom (4-2) pitched seven innings of two-run ball, striking out 14 to match his career high for the second time this season. He allowed four hits and walked two against the AL's top team, enhancing his bid for a third straight Cy Young Award.
Lowe walked and scored in the second and launched a leadoff homer in the fourth, driving deGrom's 92 mph changeup out to center field.
“I was very fortunate he made one mistake and we were able to capitalize," Lowe said.
The Rays used an opener for the third time in eight games after relying on their rotation for most of this season. Peter Fairbanks began with 1 2/3 scoreless innings, Josh Fleming (4-0) allowed a run in three innings as the bulk man and Nick Anderson closed for his sixth save. In total, six pitchers combined on a four-hitter.
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DeGrom reached 100 mph while striking out the side on 10 pitches in the first inning, a promising sign after he left his previous start after only two innings because of a right hamstring spasm.
He got a bit wild in the second, and a couple of defensive miscues didn't help. Lowe walked and scored on Manuel Margot's sacrifice fly, although Lowe might have been nabbed after a wide turn at third on Joey Wendle's double if shortstop Amed Rosario hadn't dropped the relay feed.
Wendle later stole third when third baseman J.D. Davis dropped catcher Wilson Ramos' throw. Neither Rosario nor Davis were charged with errors. DeGrom ended the inning by striking out Mike Zunino.
Jeff McNeil got New York on the board in the fifth with a bases-loaded infield single that cut the Rays' lead to 2-1. Fleming got out of the inning one batter later when Davis lined out to right fielder Brett Phillips.