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BAL@TB: Pearce smashes a two-run shot to left field

ST. PETERSBURG -- When Steve Pearce re-signed with Baltimore after being released, he cited the opportunity, with first baseman Chris Davis on the disabled list, to be able to contribute to an organization he was comfortable with.

Eight games later, the 31-year-old continues to make the most of it.

A night removed from rookie Jonathan Schoop's decisive two-run homer, the O's keep getting contributions from all over the lineup with Pearce -- also the center of a game-changing play -- connecting for a two-run homer to seal Thursday's 3-1 series sweep over Tampa Bay.

"To me it's huge to finally get the opportunity to play and show guys what I can do," said Pearce, who is batting .300 over that stretch with two doubles, two homers and five RBIs in place of Davis. "It was a great team win. We needed that."

Baltimore, which has dealt with a host of early-season injuries to key contributors, including Davis and Manny Machado, remains atop the American League East and ends a six-game road trip with a very respectable 4-2 record.

"Stevie's had some big hits for us," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "He's a professional baseball player. He's a strong young man who cares about doing things right. He's always been a pleasure to have around because of the way he carries himself. It means a lot for him to win and contribute."

Pearce's offensive effort, coupled with Schoop's tack-on RBI, helped O's starter Ubaldo Jimenez win his second consecutive start and first over a divisional opponent this season.

While Jimenez's stay was again short -- he lasted 5 1/3 innings -- he held Tampa Bay to one run and a bullpen of Ryan Webb, Brian Matusz and Darren O'Day picked it up from there.

"It was a good one because when I saw myself have 50 pitches in the second inning I was like, 'Wow. This is going to be a long one,'" said Jimenez, who struggled with command. "So I told myself I have to find a way to cut back on it and go as long as I can."

After allowing a a first-inning run on Evan Longoria's two-out single, Jimenez settled in a little bit. The righty retired 9 of 10 before Jimemez got into trouble in the fifth with a one-out walk to Ben Zobrist and Desmond Jennings' infield hit. Jimenez hit Matt Joyce with a pitch to load the bases for Longoria, but got the Rays' cleanup hitter to bounce a ball to shortstop J.J. Hardy. Hardy fired to second baseman Ryan Flaherty, who turned and threw off the mark to Pearce, but the first baseman lunged and completed the double play with an outstretched glove.

"That was huge," Pearce said of the play, which was confirmed after a two-minute replay review challenge issued by Rays manager Joe Maddon. "It was bases loaded at the time. If that ball had gotten past … it could have cleared the bases."

Instead, it meant Jimenez started the next inning and he exited with runners on the corners and one out -- after a pair of singles -- in favor of Webb. The O's got a break in Machado fielding Yunel Escobar's grounder and catching Will Myers trying to score, and they got him in a rundown for the inning's second out. Webb got Ryan Hanigan to ground out sharply to end the threat and recorded the first two outs of the seventh before Matusz came on to throw 1 1/3 scoreless. O'Day finished the game, with closer Tommy Hunter pitching back-to-back nights prior to Thursday.

"We have some confidence that people who are right-handed can get left-handed hitters out and the left-handers can get right-handed hitters out," Showalter said of a relief corps that has been relied on heavily this season. "That's kind of what we're going to expect from our guys, too, sometimes, to keep everybody healthy. You've watched. I'm not going to put them in harm's way. We've got to keep our guys healthy down there."

Added Jimenez: "As a starting pitcher, we want to go deep. We are not doing it right now, but hopefully we will find a way to turn it around because we are putting a lot of it in their arms right now."

Pearce has handled his workload incredibly well, putting the Orioles on the board Thursday with a two-run homer in his first at-bat in the second inning. He sent Rays ace David Price's full-count fastball into left field to also score Hardy, who doubled. Schoop, the hero in Wednesday's contest with a two-run homer, drove in Baltimore's third run with a two-out single in the fourth.

"David was right around the zone and they were fouling balls off," Hanigan said. "It wasn't like he walking a bunch of guys."

The O's chased Price after five innings, loading the bases on the lefty with a pair of singles from Adam Jones and Matt Wieters and Hardy's walk. While reliever Brad Boxberger struck out the side to keep the score there, the O's had already done enough to ensure a happy flight home to Baltimore.

"It's way better," Pearce said of the long flight after a sweep. "It's nice to have that, especially going back home to play Houston. I'll take that."

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