First Place Tampa Bay Rays Break Franchise Record

SEATTLE (AP) -- Willy Aybar homered twice, including a 3-run shot, and former Montgomery Biscuits outfielder Shawn Riggans added a 3-run homer of his own, as the Tampa Bay Rays won its franchise-best 71st game in an 11-3 rout of the Seattle Mariners, Sunday.

The Rays, the surprise team of the American League this year, improve to 71-46 by taking three of four in Seattle. They now own a 4½-game lead over the Red Sox in the AL East, their largest advantage since July 6.

But the attention went to outfielder Rocco Baldelli, who returned to the playing field after nearly seeing his playing career end.

The oft-injured Baldelli missed most of last season with a lingering hamstring problem, just another in a string of injuries that kept him sidelined for much of the 2005 and 2006 seasons.

The Rays asked Baldelli to pace himself during spring training, but he was soon diagnosed with a mitochondrial disorder, a condition that slows muscle recovery and causes extreme fatigue.

With outfielder Carl Crawford being placed on the 15-day disabled list Sunday, the Rays were in need of an outfielder. So Baldelli, who rehabbed with Montgomery only weeks ago, played in his first game since May 15, 2007.

Baldelli had an RBI single in the 3rd inning and made a diving grab of Brian LaHair's shallow fly ball in the 5th. He was lifted in the 6th inning after going 1-for-4.

Aybar, who started at 3rd base in place of Evan Longoria, gave Tampa Bay a 3-0 lead in the 2nd with his 5th homer, and later hit a solo homer in the 7th in almost the identical spot.

Riggans came through with two outs in the 5th, hitting a pitch by R.A. Dickey (3-7) over the hand-operated scoreboard in left for his 5th homer of the season.

Edwin Jackson won his 4th straight start - a career-best. Jackson (9-7) pitched 7 strong innings, scattering 7 hits and striking out 2. His only mistake was Jose Lopez's solo homer leading off the 2nd.

Seattle's Ichiro Suzuki extended his hitting streak to 16 games, and had an RBI single in the 9th.

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.