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TB@BAL: Damon's solo shot puts the Rays up early

BALTIMORE -- Tampa Bay's offense picked up the pitching on Sunday afternoon, and the Rays left Baltimore on a happy note.

The Rays' offense scored its most runs since April 28 in taking the 9-6 win at Camden Yards with 22,032 watching.

By winning, the Rays claimed their weekend series against the Orioles while recording their second consecutive win and their fifth win in their last six games to remain in third place, four games behind the Red Sox in the American League East.

Tampa Bay is now 6-4 on their four-stop road trip that concludes on Monday -- which ensures that the Rays will have their first winning road trip of 11-plus games since July 23-Aug. 3, 2003. The trip began with four games in Seattle, before moving to Anaheim for three and Baltimore for three. Monday's game against the Tigers is a makeup game for the May 25 rainout in Detroit.

Along the way, the Rays have gone through a bad virus that affected many of the players, and their sleep patterns have been disrupted by the changing time zones.

"This is what every Major League team has to do," Johnny Damon said. "I don't think you'll ever be happy with certain road trips, because they're not perfect. I guess only if you win every single game, they are. I know we can't wait to get home and sleep in our beds for only five days, then get back on the road.

"But it's been one of the more grueling ones that I've been a part of in all my years. Hopefully, we can finish off the road trip with a win [Monday] night and get ready to face a super-hot team [in the Red Sox on Tuesday night at Tropicana Field]."

Damon got the Rays off to a good start, when he led off the game against normally tough left-hander Brian Matusz by hitting a 1-2 pitch over the wall in right field for his eighth home run of the season.

"I was just looking for a good pitch to hit," Damon said. "His fastball is down a little. He went on the DL early this season, and he just hasn't regained that zip he had the past year. He will. Unfortunately, injuries take a toll on a player. He'll find it soon. ... His fastball wasn't what it was last year -- and we happened to jump on it."

For Damon, the hit represented the 37th consecutive game in which he has reached base, tying the club record set by Ben Grieve in 2001.

"I'm in a position where I'm comfortable at, but I also think it's a lot of other players comfortable in their spots," Damon said. "For a while there, we were test driving a bunch of leadoff hitters and having a lot of changes. ... We started to swing the bats OK this series. ... We're definitely happy with the outcome here tonight."

Evan Longoria added a sacrifice fly and Justin Ruggiano scored on an error by Orioles third baseman Mark Reynolds to give the Rays a 3-0 lead by the time they finished hitting in the first.

Adam Jones and Vladimir Guerrero answered in the bottom half of the inning with back-to-back home runs off Rays starter Wade Davis to cut the lead to 3-2. But Matusz was largely ineffective, and the Rays chased him after he'd surrendered five hits and four earned runs in 1 1/3 innings.

"From the get-go, I didn't get a good feel," Matusz said. "Warming up in the bullpen, it was just one of those days where you've got to be able to battle without your good stuff. They were able to find some holes and get some things going early, and I just wasn't able to get on track today."

Tampa Bay hitters collected 14 hits on the afternoon, and they needed every one of them -- as they were never quite able to open a big lead against the pesky Orioles.

Matters were complicated in the late innings, due to the fact the bullpen was without closer Kyle Farnsworth -- who came down with the virus that many of his teammates have already had -- and Joel Peralta was not available.

So once Davis left the game after allowing four earned runs in six innings, a parade of relievers followed: Adam Russell, Cesar Ramos, Juan Cruz, and finally, J.P. Howell, who got the final three outs to earn his first save since the 2009 season. That group allowed just one run in three innings worked.

Because the Orioles never put away their bats, the Rays' hitters seemed to have an urgency about them, as well.

Kelly Shoppach came up with a big two-out single in the seventh off Mike Gonzalez that put the Rays up, 7-3. And Longoria added a two-run, inside-the-park homer in the eighth.

Longoria's hit had a wicked, knuckleball-like action on it while it dodged Jones' glove in center field. The inside-the-park homer was the ninth in Rays history (Carl Crawford last accomplished the feat on July 20, 2009), and only the third in Camden Yards history.

"I don't think I've had one since Little League, and there weren't fences," Longoria said. "Hit one over the guy's head and just run until you can't run anymore. I never had one in high school or college, or anything like that."

Rays manager Joe Maddon sounded pleased with his team -- the offense in particular, which scored 16 runs combined on Saturday and Sunday.

"We've played really well for these three days. Normally where we pitch well and win close games because we pitched well, we won close games because we played defense and hit well," Maddon said. Comments