BALTIMORE (AP) — Nick Johnson’s first homer in two years gave Baltimore a seventh-inning lead, and the Orioles edged the Tampa Bay Rays 4-3 Friday night in a duel for first place in the AL East.
Johnson’s two-run drive off Joel Peralta (0-2) put the Orioles in front 4-3, and the bullpen made the margin stand up. After spending last season in the minors, Johnson received an invite to spring training, made the team and was batting .143 before his game-changing home run.
Adam Jones and Nick Markakis also connected for the Orioles, who lead the majors with 53 homers.
Baltimore trailed 3-2 before Chris Davis hit a two-out single in the seventh off Tampa Bay starter Jeremy Hellickson. Peralta then served up a 3-2 pitch that Johnson deposited into the front row of the right-field bleachers for his first homer since May 5, 2010, with the New York Yankees.
Darren O’Day (3-0) pitched the seventh, Pedro Strop worked a perfect eighth and Jim Johnson got three straight outs for his 10th save.
The Rays and the surprising Orioles came into the game tied atop the division with 20-12 records. It was the first time since June 9, 1992, there was a two-way tie for first place in the AL East this late in the season that didn’t involve either New York or Boston.
Tampa Bay, which was hitless after the fifth inning, has lost five of six. Rays designated hitter Luke Scott, who played the previous four seasons with Baltimore, went 1 for 3 with a walk and scored a run.
Dana Eveland walked six over six innings in his Orioles debut and gave up three runs and five hits. Obtained in a December trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Eveland toiled in the minors for Baltimore before being summoned for this game.
The Rays loaded the bases with no outs in the second inning but got only one run, on a double-play grounder by Sean Rodriguez.
Jones tied it in the bottom half with his 10th home run, a drive to deep into the left-field seats on a 3-2 pitch.
Tampa Bay took a 3-1 lead in the fourth, but might have had more if not for a gritty play by Orioles catcher Matt Wieters. With the bases loaded and one out, Elliot Johnson hit a liner off the right-field wall that scored Matt Joyce and sent Rodriguez hustling from second to home.
Markakis threw to second baseman Robert Andino, whose relay got to Wieters an instant before Rodriguez arrived. Rodriguez led with his left shoulder and barreled into Wieters, who made the tag and held onto the ball despite being thrust backward several feet.
Eveland then issued an intentional walk to load the bases before hitting Carlos Pena with a pitch to force in a run.
Markakis hit his sixth homer, the third in four games, to make it 3-2 in the sixth.
NOTES: To make room for Eveland, the Orioles placed RHP Matt Lindstrom (finger) on the 15-day disabled list. Tampa Bay OF Desmond Jennings missed a fourth straight start with a left knee sprain. Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed threw out the ceremonial first pitch. He also took batting practice before the game. Pena went 0 for 4 and is 3 for 35 with 13 strikeouts in his last nine games. Hideki Matsui went 2 for 4 with a walk in extending spring training for the Rays and is 5 for 13 in three games.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)