ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Jeff Niemann started the season as Tampa Bay's fifth starter. The rookie is pitching like the ace of the staff.
Niemann allowed one run over 7 1/3 innings for his 11th win of the season, and Pat Burrell, Ben Zobrist and B.J. Upton hit solo homers as the Rays beat the Baltimore Orioles 3-1 on Wednesday night."He's just in control," Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said. "Very solid all the way through. His work has been excellent, both physically and mentally."Niemann (11-5) lost his shutout bid when the last batter he faced, Brian Roberts, hit a solo homer with one out in the eighth. The right-hander, who has won seven of his last eight decisions, gave up seven hits and one walk, striking out five."I'm just trying to get out there each time, keep us in the game as a team and let the rest fall into place," Niemann said.J.P. Howell pitched the ninth for his 14th save. Tampa Bay has won four straight after a five-game losing streak.Chris Tillman (1-1) allowed the three homers among seven hits over six-plus innings for the Orioles, who are 8-24 since the All-Star break and dropped to a season-high 24 games under .500 (48-72).Niemann worked out of a bases-loaded, no-outs jam in the fifth. Shortstop Jason Bartlett dived to knock down a liner by Cesar Izturis and threw home for a forceout. Roberts then grounded into a double play."Everybody talks about the three homers, the game shifts on that moment," Maddon said.Bartlett didn't check third, where Orioles catcher Matt Wieters was on base, before making his throw."I was thinking home when I was going to get the ball," Bartlett said. "Something in my mind clicked that he's not too far off the bag."Orioles manager Dave Trembley called it the play of the game."Niemann should take Bartlett out to dinner," Trembley said. "I'm not shaking my head over it. I'm tipping my cap to the great play Bartlett made."Roberts has hit into just four double plays in 475 at-bats this season."Brian Roberts is a guy who hits into a double play about once every blue moon," Trembley said.Burrell put the Rays ahead 1-0 with his 12th homer in the fourth. He had a solo shot in Tuesday's 5-4 win over the Orioles.Zobrist made it 2-0 with his 20th home run in the sixth. Three of the homers have come since the All-Star break.Upton homered for the second straight game, putting the Rays up 3-0 with a leadoff shot in the seventh.All three Tampa Bay homers came on a first pitch from Tillman."I can't really knock myself because I'm being aggressive, but I have to make better pitches," Tillman said. "I guess I'm giving them too good of a first strike, obviously."Baltimore has gone 3 of 18 with runners in scoring position, including 1 of 6 Wednesday, over the past two games. The Orioles are 4-32 in their last 36 road games against AL East opponents.Tampa Bay loaded the bases with two outs in the first, but failed to score when Burrell lined out to left.Baltimore's Nick Markakis went 0 for 4 and had his stretch of reaching base in 38 consecutive games end. His 11-game hitting streak also ended.
Tampa Bay LF Carl Crawford is 11 for 20 with seven doubles over his last five games. ... Orioles closer Jim Johnson is scheduled to return Thursday after missing two games for the birth of his daughter. ... Maddon has been named one of four 2009 Lafayette Maroon Club Hall of Fame selections. Maddon played three years of baseball at the college. ... Trembley said 6-foot-9 rookie RHP Kam Mickolio has the potential to be a closer in the future.