ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Tampa Bay has the highest-scoring offense in the major leagues since mid-April. It’s the strong pitching staff, though, that has the Rays thinking this could be a special season.
Jeremy Hellickson pitched six scoreless innings and six different players drove in runs Saturday to help the surging Rays beat Baltimore 8-0, move a season-high seven games over .500 and nudge ahead of the Orioles into third place in the AL East behind the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees.
“You’ve got to climb over the group in front of you and keep moving forward. You first try to get to 10 games over .500, then 15,” manager Joe Maddon said.
“Of course you notice the teams in front of you, but you’ve got to be focused on what you’re doing,” Maddon added. “The process will take care of itself.”
Taking up where they left off in allowing just two hits in a 2-1 victory in the opener of a three-game series at Tropicana Field, Rays pitchers limited the Orioles to four singles to beat their division rivals for the fifth straight time.
Hellickson (4-2) worked through a fifth-inning jam before watching the Rays break it open with five runs in the bottom half of the inning, three on Luke Scott’s bases-loaded triple. He and three relievers combined to retire the last 15 batters to finish the combined four-hitter.
Hellickson won his third straight decision, allowing each of Baltimore’s hits, walking none and striking out five.
The Rays have struggled to maintain leads with the 26-year-old right-hander on the mound, however it was smooth sailing after Hellickson shut down the Orioles in the fifth.
“It was huge, getting out of it with a zero and then in the bottom half, kind of putting the game out of reach,” Hellickson said. “I can’t even blow an eight-run lead, so it was nice to get out of that fifth.”
Evan Longoria, Ben Zobrist, Yunel Escobar, James Loney and Jose Lobaton also drove in runs for the Rays, who roughed up rookie Kevin Gausman (0-3) in his fourth major league start.
The victory was the 10th in 13 games for Tampa Bay, which moved a half-game ahead of Baltimore in the division standings.
The Orioles came into the series with a major league-best streak of 34 consecutive games with at least two extra-base hits. They were shut out for the first time since May 3, and the third time overall this season.
“What do you do? Dwell on what happened behind you, good or bad? You can’t,” Baltimore manager Buck Showalter said. “(Sunday) is going to be a real challenge for us. We’ll show up, and I’ve got a lot of confidence in good people.”
Gausman, the fourth overall pick in last year’s draft out of LSU, has made three of his four starts on the road. He allowed four runs over five innings of his big league debut at Toronto on May 23, then yielded three homers and seven runs overall while only lasting four innings during a loss at Washington in his next outing.
The 22-year-old entered Saturday coming off a six-inning stint in which he allowed one run and five hits but was not involved in the decision of his first start at Camden Yards.
“Obviously, this hasn’t gone the way I would have hoped. Obviously I wanted to come up here and hit the ground running, win my first four starts, but it hasn’t been like that,” Gausman said. “I’m just trying to battle every day and just try to get back to what I’ve been doing. There’s definitely a learning curve there, and I’m just trying to learn it.”
The Rays scored once in the first and twice in the second to build an early 3-0 lead.
Hellickson, meanwhile, settled after giving up singles to Manny Machado and Adam Jones in the first inning. The former AL Rookie of the Year retired 10 in a row before Matt Wieters and J.J. Hardy to begin the Baltimore fifth.
The Orioles, however, wasted the opportunity to get back in the game. Hellickson struck out Chris Dickerson after falling behind 3-1 in the count, Ryan Flaherty grounded into a force play and Nate McLouth hit a routine fly ball to left field to end the threat.
Tampa Bay broke it open in the fifth, when Gausman gave up a RBI single to Loney before departing with the bases loaded and one out.
Scott greeted Orioles reliever T.J. McFarland, celebrating his 24th birthday, with his three-run triple on an 0-2 pitch. Jose Lobaton followed with a first-pitch double to make it 8-0. Lobaton, Escobar and Zobrist all had three hits for the Rays.
Gausman allowed seven runs and eight hits in 4 1-3 innings.
Still, Maddon liked what he saw of the Orioles rookie.
“He’s got a great arm. … He’s what, one year or so out of college?” Maddon said. “Heads up. This guy is going to be real good. He’s as good as they think he is.”
NOTES: With help from a postgame concert featuring country music star Martina McBride, the game drew an announced crowd of 21,834 — up from 13,256 for the series opener Friday night. … Showalter said 2B Brian Roberts (right hamstring) likely will remain with the team to continue his rehab program. Roberts, who hopes to return before the All-Star break next month, has been working out at the Orioles’ complex in Sarasota, Fla. … Orioles INF Wilson Betemit (right knee) is running and taking batting practice in an indoor cage. He could return after the All-Star break. … Tampa Bay LHP David Price, the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner, felt fine one day after throwing his first bullpen session since going on the 15-day disabled list May 16 with a left triceps strain. Barring a setback, he could be back in the rotation late this month. … The Orioles reinstated RHP Pedro Strop (lower back strain) from the 15-day DL.