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Gonzalez goes 6 1/3 frames to earn the win

For the first time in the 2012 season, the Tampa Bay Rays will take the field Tuesday night without an eye on a playoff spot.

The Rays were eliminated from contention with Oakland's win over Texas late Monday night, though they could still play spoiler to a division rival when they host Baltimore in the second game of a three-game set.

The Orioles have already clinched a playoff berth -- their first since 1997, but they've set their sights on winning the American League East, and they trail the Yankees by a game with two to play. A loss coupled with a Yankees win on Tuesday would mean the Orioles fall into a winner-take-all Wild Card game on Friday.

"I think everybody knows what we're going for here, and that's the AL East," Baltimore reliever Darren O'Day said.

Right-hander Miguel Gonzalez gets the ball for the O's after he won his eighth game of the season Wednesday, when he surrendered two runs on five hits in seven innings against Toronto.

Gonzalez (8-4, 3.45 ERA) has been a solid option in the Orioles' rotation since he made his big league debut on May 29. The club has won eight of his last 10 starts, and he is 6-2 in those outings.

Opposite Gonzalez will be Rays right-hander James Shields, who will be making his last start of the season. He's already accomplished his goal of throwing 200 innings (he's at 218 2/3), and he's turned his season around in the last two months by throwing more fastballs and locating them better.

In his last 11 starts, Shields is 7-2 with a 2.10 ERA, and opponents are hitting just .176 against him with 74 strikeouts and only 14 walks.

"I'm happy with my season, happy with the way I finished strong," Shields said. "I think my last 12 starts or so have been pretty solid. No matter what happens, I think I want to try to continue this next year."

Orioles: Hammel could be back for playoffs
Injured righty starter Jason Hammel could start an AL Division Series game for the Orioles, manager Buck Showalter said. Hammel threw a five-inning simulated game on Monday and experienced no problems with his right knee.

"That was real encouraging," Showalter said. "[We will] see how he feels tomorrow, next step is if he comes through that tomorrow."

Hammel threw 73 pitches and won't be available to start until Saturday at the earliest. Hammel is 8-6 with a 3.43 ERA this season.

Rays: Keppinger settles at first
Rays manager Joe Maddon has been using Jeff Keppinger quite a bit at first base recently, and he did so again in Monday's series opener.

"I think he's playing probably more than we anticipated and [more than] he did," said Maddon. "When I take him out of the game sometimes, it's not because I don't think he can play defense, but it's because I'm trying to save him for the next day."

Since the All-Star break, Keppinger is hitting .337, which ranks third in the Majors.

Worth noting
• In 36 at-bats against Shields, Orioles center fielder Adam Jones is hitting .361 with a homer, five doubles and six RBIs.

• The Orioles haven't won a season series against the Rays since 2007, but they currently lead Tampa Bay, 9-7 this year. The Rays would need to win the remaining two games to earn a split.

• The Rays are 46-26 with third baseman Evan Longoria in the lineup. They are just 43-45 without him.

• Shields is 1-1 with a 6.57 ERA in two starts against the Orioles this season. Comments