ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- It was just more than two weeks ago when Steve Pearce sat hunched over his locker in Toronto, thinking his days with the Orioles were over.
Since then, Pearce has been on an amazing roster roller-coaster -- designated for assignment, placed on release waivers, claimed off waivers by the Toronto Blue Jays, given free agency after denying the claim, and ultimately back in the same Orioles clubhouse.
Thrust into a starting role to replace injured slugger Chris Davis, Pearce might have made the two biggest plays of the night to lead the Orioles to a 3-1 win over the Tampa Bay Rays in front of an announced 11,076 at Tropicana Field.
Pearce provided the biggest hit of the night, hitting a two-run homer to left off Rays starter David Price in the second inning.
He also made an impact with his defense, stretching to snag an off-line throw at first to complete an inning-ending double play with the bases loaded in the fifth inning.
“To me, it's huge to finally get the opportunity to play and show guys what I can do,” Pearce said. “It was a great team win. We needed that.”
The win completed the Orioles' three-game sweep of the American League East rival Rays, the first time the Orioles have swept a three-game series at Tropicana Field since April 1-3, 2011.
It also marked the Orioles' first three-game road series sweep since the first three games following last year's All-Star break in Texas.
The Orioles (18-14) return home from their six-game road trip to Minnesota and Tampa Bay a season-high four games above .500.
They also come home with at a half-game lead in the East over the idle New York Yankees, having won 11 of their past 17 games away from Camden Yards.
After losing 11 of their final 13 meetings with Tampa Bay last season, the Orioles have won their first five meetings with the Rays (15-20) in 2014.
"We all know where they're going to be at the end of the year, so you better do what you can while you can,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said.
Right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez (2-4) was headed for an abbreviated outing following a 25-pitch first inning. Coming off his best outing of the season – a 7 1/3-inning shutout performance against the Twins – Jimenez lasted just 5 1/3 innings.
Though he labored throughout the night, Jimenez was just two outs away from recording back-to-back quality starts. He allowed one run and seven hits with three strikeouts and two walks.
“I was missing with my fastball and my breaking ball,” Jimenez said. “That's why I threw too many pitches. But I was able to hang in.”
Jimenez loaded the bases with one out in the fifth inning, but induced a 6-4-3 double-play ball from Longoria, a play that ended with Pearce extending his body and backhanding a one-hop throw from second baseman Jonathan Schoop.
“Oh yeah, that was huge,” Pearce said. “It was bases loaded at the time. If that ball had gotten past … it could have cleared the bases.”
That play was challenged by Rays manager Joe Maddon, but it was confirmed.
Meanwhile, all three of the Orioles' runs were scored with two outs.
Trailing 1-0 in the second inning, Pearce hit his second homer of the season, taking a 94-mph full-count pitch from Price (3-3) into the left-field seats, not far from a group of about 25 supporters who made the trip from his hometown of Lakeland.
"Stevie's had some big hits for us,” Showalter said. “He's a professional baseball player. He's a strong young man who cares about doing things right. He's always been a pleasure to have around because of the way he carries himself. It means a lot for him to win and contribute."
Schoop, who was the hero of Wednesday's win with a game-winning two-run homer, hit a 1-2 pitch up the middle with two outs to score Adam Jones from third.
Price left the game with the bases loaded and no outs in the sixth, but right-hander Brad Boxberger entered the game and struck out the side to get Price off the hook.
The Rays took a quick lead four batters into the bottom of the first on Longoria's two-out RBI single that drove in Desmond Jennings.
Ryan Webb preserved the 3-1 lead in the sixth, coming in for Jimenez with runners at the corners and one out.
Rays shortstop Yunel Escobar then hit a groundball to third baseman Manny Machado, who threw home and caught lead runner Wil Myers in a rundown. Webb then induced a groundout to shortstop from pinch-hitter Ryan Hanigan to end the inning.
Webb found himself in a jam in the seventh with two on and one out, but he struck out Longoria swinging on an 81-mph slider.
Left-hander Brian Matusz then induced an inning-ending flyout from Jamey Loney, stranding two inherited runners. He has stranded 12 of 13 inherited runners this season.
With closer Tommy Hunter having worked the previous two days, Darren O'Day allowed back-to-back singles to open the ninth, but got Desmond Jennings to ground into a rally-killing double play, then ended the game with a groundout by Matt Joyce to Pearce at first.
In the three-game series, the Orioles bullpen allowed just one run in 10 innings.
“It's been great, especially tonight,” Jimenez said. “You saw what they did. All of the guys that came in the game, they stopped the runners from advancing they stopped the runners from scoring.”
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