BALTIMORE - It didn't take long for Nate McLouth to make an impact as the Baltimore Orioles leadoff hitter.
In just his third game at the top of the order, McLouth hit a walk-off RBI single in the bottom of the ninth inning off the wall in right field, just inside the foul line. The clutch hit off reliever Kyle Farnsworth (1-5) lifted first-place Baltimore to a 3-2 win over the Tampa Bay Rays before 26,076 fans at Camden Yards Wednesday.
"It was hooking pretty hard there at the end," McLouth said. "I wasn't quite sure if it was going to stay fair."
McLouth's hit scored Manny Machado from second. Machado led the inning off with a single, immediately after he had a game-saving defensive play at third base in the top of the inning.
Evan Longoria hit a groundball that Machado had to play bare-handed. After not being able to make a throw to first base, Machado alertly spun around and threw to J.J Hardy covering third and caught Rich Thompson in a rundown between third base and home for the final out of the inning.
"At first, I thought I had [Longoria]," Machado said. "I kind of figured I wasn't going to get him out. He was already down the line."
Orioles manager Buck Showalter commended Machado and Hardy for the play that prevented the Rays (77-66) from extending the inning.
"Not many shortstops are there to start with," Showalter said. "It was the only chance to get an out because you've got a real fast runner there that's trying to take advantage of you. He's probably going to keep going if he throws the ball. Manny had a really good night defensively at third. That goes without saying."
McLouth, who began hitting leadoff following Nick Markakis' injury, went 2 for 5 and came through when it mattered for the Orioles (80-62), who now have 80 wins for the first time since 1997.
"He enjoys the competition, you can see it," Showalter said.
Added McLouth: "It's neat because almost daily you can kind of sense and feel the excitement growing a little bit."
B.J. Upton homered on the second pitch of the game, his 22nd blast of the year, to start the game's scoring. It was the third time in five home starts that Miguel Gonzalez has allowed a leadoff home run to begin the game.
Gonzalez pitched six innings, giving up two runs on six hits, but had five walks for a no-decision.
"Command wasn't quite there," Showalter said. "He got right back in the competition and everything that happened tonight, he was as key to it as anything."
The Orioles scored in the first as well with two runs on a pair of RBI singles from Matt Wieters and Wilson Betemit. Baltimore loaded the bases with two outs, but was unable to capitalize.
Tampa Bay tied the game 2-2 in the third on an RBI double laced into the left field corner by Ben Francisco.
After giving up a single to Robert Andino to lead off the second, Rays starter Alex Cobb struck out five of the next six batters and retired 10 of the next 11. Gonzalez also settled in, retiring seven straight after the double by Francisco.
Cobb pitched 4 2-3 innings, giving up two runs on seven hits for a no decision.
Jake McGee relieved Cobb with two outs and two on in the fifth. McGee then struck out all four batters he faced.
Baltimore and Tampa Bay both missed several opportunities to score during the middle innings. There were 20 runners left on base between the two teams.
Darren O'Day and Pedro Strop each pitched a scoreless inning of relief for the Orioles, giving up just one hit combined. Jim Johnson (2-1) notched the win in relief, throwing a scoreless ninth inning, although he gave up two hits.
Baltimore remains tied with the Yankees in the American League East and is three games ahead of Tampa Bay for the second wild card spot. Machado said that the Orioles have the talent to keep competing for the division title, and that they will do everything they can to maintain this success.
"We're just taking it day-by-day," Machado said. "We have a great pitching staff. We have a great lineup. ... We're just going to go out there and keep fighting every day."