It took Kevin Gausman 13 starts to earn his elusive first win of the season, but the Orioles right-hander left no doubt Saturday afternoon with one of the finest performances of his career in a 5-0 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 1 of a split-admission doubleheader at Camden Yards.
It was the fourth shutout win of this season for the Orioles (43-30), who moved a season-best 13 games over .500 for the second time this year.
Gausman allowed just four singles over 7 2/3 scoreless innings, retiring 17 of 18 before he allowed two singles in his final inning. Gausman struck out seven and walked none in the win. His outing received a game score — a metric devised to determine the strength of a pitcher in any one game — of 85, which is the highest of his career, highest of an Orioles pitcher this season and ranked among the top 20 starts in the majors this season.
Despite entering Saturday having posted quality starts in six of his 12 outings, Gausman's 2.91 run-support average was the lowest of any Orioles starter, contributing to his 0-5 record.
"Every time you take the mound you expect to win," Gausman said. "That's what I've done 13 times now. I've expected to win 13 times. Obviously there have been a couple games that got away from me and I've just kind of hoped that the team would pick me up, and they have before. … You just try to do what you can and you try to be that guy every fifth day."
Gausman hadn't helped his own cause in his previous two starts, allowing 10 earned runs in eight innings. That included his shortest outing of the season, when he gave up seven runs on six hits in three innings in Boston on June 15. Following his previous outing in Texas, in which Gausman failed to hold an early three-run lead in a 4-3 loss to the Rangers on Monday, the 25-year-old expressed frustration about being unable to take advantage of a rare lead.
"He was proactive instead of reactive," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said of Saturday's start. "That's what we always stress about all phases of the game. … He gives up a line drive in the eighth inning [Saturday] and all of a sudden he gets a double-play ball. He made a lot of pitches that kept them from getting any momentum."
On Saturday, Gausman was one out away from matching his longest outing of the season, and entered the eighth having retired 12 straight. But he left the game after two singles sandwiched a double play. But Gausman was carrying his best stuff down to his 113th and final pitch — a fastball that hit 99 mph -- and he walked off the field to a standing ovation from the announced crowd of 18,229.
"It looked like he was spotting his fastball pretty well, mixing his pitches, keeping them off balance," shortstop J.J. Hardy said. "He wasn't letting them hit the ball hard, and obviously, the upper-90s fastball helps."
Gausman was in control throughout the game, retiring 17 of 20 hitters after putting runners on first and second with one out in the second inning. The only hit off Gausman between the second and the eighth was Evan Longoria's leadoff single in the fourth.
Saturday's outing marked Gausman's most strikeouts in a game in which he didn't issue a walk since Sept. 30, 2015 against the Toronto Blue Jays (10 strikeouts).
"What I'm most proud of is not walking guys," Gausman said. "If I don't walk guys, I'm going to give myself a pretty good chance. If you can limit those free passes and kind of let them put the ball in play against our defense, and our offense, you just kind of wait around for them to explode. ... .I was just happy I was able to not give it back like I did the other day [in Texas]."
The Orioles scored two runs in the second inning off Rays right-hander Matt Andriese (6-1). Jonathan Schoop opened the inning with a double, Pedro Alvarez followed with a walk and Hardy singled up the middle on a 0-1 pitch to drive Schoop in for the game's first run.
After No. 9 hitter Francisco Pena hit into a 6-4-3 double play that put a runner at third, Adam Jones drove in another run with a two-out RBI single on an 0-1 pitch, scoring Alvarez.
Pena added an insurance run with two outs in the sixth, hitting a run-scoring single off Rays right-hander Tyler Sturdevant to score Schoop and give the Orioles a 3-0 lead. Alvarez added a two-run single with two outs in the seventh.
Saturday's Game 1 win marked the seventh game at Camden Yards this season in which neither team homered, one fewer than was played in all of last season.
The Orioles, who are 6-1 in homerless home games this season, were 4-for-12 with runners in scoring position in Game 1 on Saturday.
"We put some good at-bats together," said Schoop, who was 2-for-4 in the first game of the doubleheader. "… Everybody contributes. Somebody does it one day, somebody different does it [another day]. That's how we're so good. … We can play small ball, too."
The Orioles entered Saturday with a major league-leading 44 homers in June and led the majors with 113 homers this season.
Despite an 0-for-3 afternoon while working his way out of a slump at the plate, designated hitter Mark Trumbo worked one of the most valuable early inning at-bats against Andriese.
Trumbo struck out twice, including once stranding two runners in scoring position to end the first inning. But in the third, he worked an 11-pitch at-bat before striking out, forcing Andriese to throw 22 pitches in a 1-2-3 inning.
In Friday's win, Trumbo worked a nine-pitch walk to keep the Orioles' four-run sixth inning alive in a 6-3 victory over Tampa Bay.
So despite hitting just one homer over his 16 games entering Saturday night and hitting just .200 over that span, Trumbo's ability to work some long at-bats is helping the team while he's slumping.