ST. PETERSBURG -- Rays Baseball returned with an exclamation point in Friday's 5-0 win over the Orioles at Tropicana Field.
And a return to excellence could not have come at a better time. Not only did the Rays snap a three-game losing streak, they took sole possession of first place in the American League East, as the win broke the tie with the slumping Orioles.
"[The win] was big, we've been scuffling a little bit," said starter David Price, who picked up his seventh win after pitching 7 1/3 scoreless innings.
There was a good vibe even before most of the crowd could find their seats.
Carlos Pena led off the Rays' first with a hustling double off Baltimore starter Wei-Yin Chen and moved to third on a passed ball. B.J. Upton then grounded to J.J. Hardy. The Orioles shortstop, who was playing back, decided to throw to the plate when Pena hesitated before running home. The ball arrived before Pena did, and catcher Matt Wieters tagged him out.
Clearly, the play could have turned into a mood killer for the Rays given the fact that they had just been swept by the White Sox, but they never allowed the play to fester. Instead, Matt Joyce followed with a single and Ben Zobrist added a bunt single to load the bases. Luke Scott's single through the middle then gave the Rays a two-run lead.
Keeping the Rays' foot on the accelerator, Sean Rodriguez laid down a bunt, scoring Zobrist from third. Hideki Matsui finished the first-inning feast with a two-run homer around the foul pole in right for a five-run lead and the final score.
"I think Carlos kind of got us going with the hit," Joyce said. "I think it's one of those things where we've been struggling a little bit, and we had the mind-set that we're going to be OK, we just have to keep swinging.
"We're going to get good pitches to hit. And as long as we keep swinging, we're going to be fine. We're going to put up runs. That was the case there. We didn't really let [the play at the plate] beat us or get us down. You know what? We just have to find a way to keep doing it."
The Orioles have now lost six in a row.
"It's a dark time for our team, and I really wanted to help them to win today," said Chen through an interpreter. "But the first inning I couldn't command my fastball, and my offspeed pitches were out of the zone. I didn't do my job today."
The Rays scored five runs in the first inning for the first time since May 1, 2011, against the Angels, and the outburst proved to be plenty for Price.
The left-hander retired the Orioles in order through four innings, an effort greatly aided by Joyce's backhanded grab of a Hardy drive to right field with two outs in the fourth.
Wieters broke Price's spell when he drove a single through the right side of the infield with one out in the fifth for the Orioles' first hit.
The Orioles' best chance to hang something on Price came in the sixth, when Upton hauled in a fly for the second out and threw to second base to catch Steve Tolleson trying to advance. The double play was completed before Bill Hall crossed the plate for what would have been the Orioles' first run.
"[The double play] was outstanding," manager Joe Maddon said. "I think Hall actually ran pretty good. He looked like he ran well. But you have to be aware on that play. Even the runner going into second base has to be aware. If you see you are going to be out, you have to make sure that the run actually scores. [It was] really a fortuitous play for us to be able to do that. ... It's a bad situation, [Adam] Jones is on deck. It's not really cool. So to be able to get out of it like that is outstanding for us."
Price, who lowered his ERA to 2.44, has now worked seven innings or more in each of his last six starts, the longest such streak of his career and the longest in the AL this season.
"I felt good," Price said. "The offense made it a lot easier for me to go out there after they got five runs in the first -- it takes a lot of pressure off our defense, it takes a lot of pressure off our offense and it takes a lot of pressure off me. That's always welcomed, and I had a good game tonight."
Jake McGee followed Price, overpowering Hall and Robert Andino, who both struck out swinging to close out the eighth. The Orioles loaded the bases in the ninth against Burke Badenhop, prompting Maddon to bring in Fernando Rodney, who retired the final two batters to preserve the win and notch his 17th save of the season.
"They're capable of running six or seven guys out there every fifth day, and you know you have to match them pitching-wise, and we just didn't get off to a good start there," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "They were due."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.