ST. PETERSBURG, FLA. — After his team was swept by the division-leading Yankees in New York this week, Orioles manager Buck Showalter insisted his players had plenty of fight left in them.
And while it's still hard to make out whether these Orioles are legitimate playoff contenders, they showed enough resolve this weekend to take two of three games from a division rival that is having just as much trouble finding its footing.
The Orioles' 5-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays gave them series wins in two their three stops in their nine-game roadtrip coming out of the All-Star Break, though they finished the trip with a losing record (4-5).
The Orioles (48-49) moved ahead of the Rays into third place in the American League East but didn't gain any ground on the Yankees — New York beat the Minnesota Twins — and remain seven games out of first place. They are just 31/2 games back of the AL's second wild-card spot.
"I'm always encouraged," Showalter said. "I always think today's the day we're going to get back to our track record a little bit. We're scoring more runs than they score after 27 outs and that's the whole deal. … I know it's how we evaluate a lot of things numerically, but there's so much more to it than that. It's a mindset. It's a test of your will sometimes when you've got a lot of people telling you the sky is falling and it's not."
For the second straight day, the Orioles built a five-run lead, plating the first three runs off Rays left-hander Matt Moore with two outs in the first inning to provide starter Wei-Yin Chen — who recorded his first victory since July 1 — a nice cushion. They scored twice more in the top of the fourth when catcher Caleb Joseph hit a two-run home run to make it 5-0. It was the first time the club scored five or more runs in consecutive games since June 20-23.
"Any time you can jump up to a five-run lead there [in] the early innings, it always gives them some room for error," Joseph said. "Being on the other side of that, when you're down by five runs, you just got to kind of start grinding at-bats, you don't want to give at-bats away, so you kind of get behind in the count and really works in your favor. If you could draw it up, that's how you'd like to do it."
Chen (5-6) retired the first 11 batters he faced on Sunday before allowing back-to-back homers to Evan Longoria and Logan Forsythe in the bottom of the fourth inning. Chen has allowed a team-high 19 homers this year, though hadn't yielded a longball in his previous two starts.
He then stranded the bases loaded in the fifth inning and left the game with two on and one out in the sixth, with three right-handed hitters up in the bottom third of the Rays batting order. Right-handed reliever Tommy Hunter escaped that inning unscathed.
Chen, whose streak of consecutive quality starts was snapped at six, acknowledged that he wasn't pleased with being pulled from the game after completing just 51/3 innings on 86 pitches, his fewest in 19 starts this season.
"I was taken out of the game because I allowed a couple runners to get on base," Chen said through interpreter Louis Chao after the game. "Anybody will be angry when you get taken out of the game in that situation. But that's not something I can control and I will just accept it."
As he left the mound with two runners on base, Chen appeared upset.
"I think he's a little frustrated at himself for not being able to finish there, or maybe he's just frustrated at me," Showalter said of Chen. "We got some good innings out of the bullpen and he got a well-deserved win. He was pitching as good as you can see anybody pitch."
With runners on first and second and two outs in the first inning, J.J. Hardy slapped a run-scoring single into left field, scoring Chris Davis from second. Right fielder Nolan Reimold then hit a ball into the left-center field gap that hit off the glove of diving center fielder Brandon Guyer, allowing Adam Jones and Hardy to score.
Following a leadoff single in the fourth, Joseph hit his seventh home run of the season, giving the Orioles a 5-0 lead against Moore and the Rays (49-51). The Orioles are 32-5 when Joseph — who turned on an inside, first-pitch 90-mph fastball, sending it into the left field seats — drives in a run.
Moore, making his fifth start since his return from Tommy John elbow surgery, left after five innings. He allowed five runs on eight hits, struck out four and walked two on 87 pitches.
Reimold recorded his first three-hit game since April 20, 2012, but also missed a fly ball in right field that dropped for a double in the fifth and was caught in an inning-ending rundown between third and home after he ran through a stop sign at third base in the seventh.
Chen worked his way out of trouble in the fifth, an inning that began with Tim Beckham's fly ball to right dropping behind Reimold just inside the right field foul line. No. 8 hitter Jake Elmore followed with a single and two batters later, Chen hit Guyer with a pitch, loading the bases with one out.
Chen then struck out Steven Souza Jr. looking on a full-count inside fastball and forced Longoria to hit a harmless grounder to third.
After Hunter replaced Chen with two on and one out in the sixth, he uncorked a wild pitch to Beckham, and while the lead runner advanced to third, Joseph was able to recover to throw James Loney out at second.
After walking Beckham, Hunter induced an inning-ending ground out to third from Elmore to escape the inning.
The Orioles bullpen tossed 32/3 scoreless innings. Closer Zach Britton overcame a one-out walk in the ninth to convert his 25th save in 26 opportunities.