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Cruz homers, Pearce continues to swing hot bat as Gausman, Orioles blank struggling Rays 2-0

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Steve Pearce is eager to take advantage of every opportunity he's given to help the Baltimore Orioles.

The 31-year-old journeyman outfielder's opposite-field double snapped a scoreless tie and Nelson Cruz added his major league-leading 22nd homer, providing all the run support rookie Kevin Gausman and two relievers needed to shut down the struggling Tampa Bay Rays 2-0 for manager Buck Showalter's 1,200th career win on Wednesday.

Gausman pitched six innings and Pearce, who homered during a 7-5 victory over Tampa Bay on Tuesday, went 2 for 4 to boost his batting average to .324 with six homers and 15 RBIs.

Not bad for a guy who was out of baseball for two days after the Orioles designated him for assignment and eventually released him in the opening month of the season.

Since re-signing with the team on April 29, he's gradually built confidence while making the most of limited chances he's had to contribute.

"And I want to keep continuing it and doing what I can do to help the team win," Pearce said. "That's 10 at-bats in two days, I don't know if I've ever had that in my career."

The first of Pearce's two doubles, a line drive down the right-field line, drove in Nick Markakis from first base in the fifth inning.

Alex Cobb (2-5) would have gotten through the fifth unscathed if second baseman Ben Zobrist hadn't mishandled Markakis' two-out grounder for an error.

Cobb yielded four hits and four walks in seven innings. The right-hander fanned six in his sixth start since returning from a five-week stay on the disabled list with a left oblique strain.

"It's kind of been the story of the year so far for us in the fact that on those days we pitch good, it's been tough to come across some runs," Cobb said.

"On the other hand of that is we're pitching poorly and the offence is putting up a lot of runs," the right-hander added. "We've just got to get on the same page and ... and play the type of baseball we should be."

Gausman (3-1) allowed five hits, walked one and struck out five, including Zobrist and James Loney after the Rays loaded the bases with no outs in the first.

The Rays were blanked for an AL-leading 11th time, finishing with five hits and going 0 for 7 with runners in scoring position.

"We just didn't hit," Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said. "How many times have I had to say that this year?"

Pearce is hitting .444 with three homers, three doubles, five walks, five runs scored and six RBIs against Tampa Bay this year. Most of the damage has come at Tropicana Field, where the Orioles have won five of six meetings between the AL East rivals to build a 7-1 lead in the season series.

Cruz, who also leads the majors with 58 RBIs, homered for the first time since June 3. The solo shot off Kirby Yates made it 2-0 in the eighth.

Tommy Hunter pitched two perfect innings and Zach Britton worked a 1-2-3 ninth for his ninth save in 10 opportunities.

The Rays loaded the bases in the first on a leadoff walk, Kevin Kiermaier's single and shortstop J.J. Hardy's fielding error. Gausman worked out of the jam, striking out Loney and Zobrist before getting David DeJesus to foul out along the left field line to end the threat.

The Rays wasted another opportunity in the sixth when Evan Longoria had a leadoff double, Loney struck out and Zobrist hit a soft liner to left field that Pearce caught on the run before tossing the ball to second for an easy double play, when Longoria continued to run, mistakenly thinking there were two outs.

"Stevie just seems to be dialing up what we need," Showalter said. "It's probably no coincidence that he was involved in the double play, too. That was pretty good positioning."

NOTES: Pearce, who grew up in nearby Lakeland, has three homers in 18 at-bats against the Rays this season. All of the homers have come at Tropicana Field. ... After striking out with the bases loaded in the first and hitting into a double play in the sixth, Zobrist has one hit in his last 36 at-bats with runners in scoring position. ... The Orioles have Thursday off before beginning a weekend series at Yankee Stadium, with RHP Ubaldo Jimenez (2-8) facing RHP Hiroki Kuroda (4-5) on Friday. The Rays continue a 10-day homestand, opening a four-game set against Houston, with RHP Chris Archer going against RHP Collin McHugh (4-4) on Thursday.

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