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Orioles hit three home runs, Chris Tillman allows one run in 6-2 win over Rays

The Orioles were ready for the regular season to start a week ago. They had long since had enough of meaningless Grapefruit League games and the drills on the back fields in Sarasota.

They were ready to make it count. It wasn't the anticipation of defending a division title, but  attending to the unfinished business this club left behind when their season ended in Kansas City following a four-game sweep in the American League Championship Series.

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"It's a new beginning," Showalter said before the game. "There's only one team happy when this whole thing is all done. ... They knew they had a chance to roll the dice [last year]. And now it becomes a journey together to try to get a chance to roll that dice again in October. It's hard to do."

The Orioles opened the season with a 6-2 victory over the division-rival Tampa Bay Rays in front of an announced sellout crowd of 31,042 at Tropicana Field -- winning in much the same way as they did in claiming the AL East last season -- with solid pitching, exemplary defense, and home runs. The club is 5-0 on Opening Day under Showalter.

"That's the way we've been playing, all the way back to last year," said Orioles first baseman Steve Pearce, who hit one of the Orioles' three homers. "It's exciting that we can do damage in any part of the order and we can score runs and we have guys who can hit. We find ways to win and that's what good teams do."

Orioles right-hander Chris Tillman, who was making his second consecutive Opening Day start, set the tone, holding the Rays to one run over 6 2/3 innings. He held Tampa Bay scoreless for the first six innings before allowing a solo homer to Rays third baseman Evan Longoria with one out in the seventh.

"This guy is a perfectionist," Showalter said of Tillman. "He will critique himself. He'll probably talk about some walks … but he's got great presence. You know he's capable of handling that situation. [I'm] proud of him."

Tillman acknowledged being amped on Opening Day last season, but said he was much more settled on Monday, even though he struggled with his off-speed stuff and was forced to lean on his fastball.

"It was much easier," said Tillman, who has allowed three runs or fewer in 21 of his last 22 starts dating back to last June. "You're always going to have the nerves on Opening Day, but it was nothing like last year. I was able to keep it under control."

"He pitches up the zone really well," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "If you notice, [he gets] a lot of fly balls, a lot of pop-ups, a lot of just misses. Got to give him credit. He did a nice job, kept pounding the zone [and] putting himself in pitchers counts, putting us on the defensive a little bit."

Offensively, an Orioles team that led the majors with 211 homers in 2014 relied on the long ball. Left fielder Alejandro De Aza – replacing Nick Markakis as the leadoff hitter -- put the Orioles up 3-0 in the fifth with a two-run homer to right-center field off Rays starter Chris Archer. He became just the third Orioles leadoff hitter to homer on Opening Day, joining Brady Anderson (1999) and Johnny Temple (1962).

Pearce added his seventh career homer against the Rays – his most against any team -- with a solo blast in the sixth off Archer and Ryan Flaherty padded the lead to 6-2 with a solo blast in the ninth off reliever Kirby Yates, Flaherty's first homer on the road since June 23, 2013.

Home runs aside, the Orioles separated themselves from the Rays fundamentally, especially on defense. Newcomer Travis Snider, replacing Markakis in right, had three hits, two RBIs and also made two key defensive plays. He threw out James Loney at the plate to end the fifth – a play that was confirmed after a replay challenge -- and made a diving catch on Kevin Kiermaier's looper into shallow right in the sixth.

Rays rookie Steven Souza Jr.'s infield hit to open the fourth was Tampa Bay's first hit off Tillman, but after the ball got away from Pearce at first, Souza turned toward second base and the Orioles caught him in a rundown.

"Travis Snider picked me up big time in right field," Tillman said. "I think all around they did a good job. We know our defense is going to be there. One of our strong points is our defense and its fun to pitch with those guys behind you."

The play that might have most characterized the win occurred when Pearce, attempting to score from first on Snider's double to right in the eighth, was out by several steps at the plate. But instead of staying up and jogging into the tag, Pearce slid into home.

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"I didn't think I really had a good chance when I saw he caught the ball and I was nowhere near the plate," Pearce said.  "I've seen it happen before all the time. It's almost like everybody gets lazy on that play. … It was pretty much just instinct."

He was initially called out, but after a replay challenge by the Orioles, it was ruled that Pearce's slide beat Rays catcher Rene Rivera's tag.

"It's a testament to Steve," Showalter said. "A lot of guys will just let him tag them standing up. That's not in Steve's makeup. If you look at everything he's come through in his career, he doesn't take anything for granted."

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