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Davis clobbers a solo homer to center field

ST. PETERSBURG -- Chris Davis struck again Tuesday night, hitting the biggest home run in his Orioles career in a 1-0 win over the Rays that kept the O's division title hopes alive.

The victory, highlighted by a stellar 6 1/3 innings from rookie starter Miguel Gonzalez, kept the Orioles a game back of the New York Yankees -- who rallied to top Boston in extra innings -- and atop the AL Wild Card race. The O's fell out of first place with Monday's loss.

Upon finding out he had been named co-AL Player of the Week on Monday afternoon, Orioles outfielder Chris Davis said he wasn't one for individual accomplishments. What Davis was proud of was the timing of his hot streak, and how it coincided with Baltimore -- which clinched its first playoff berth in 15 years Sunday night -- playing meaningful late-season games.

"I think this time of the year, there's not a bounce back," manager Buck Showalter, whose club improved to 29-8 in one-run games, said of the morale. "It's a show up the next day. The ball quits bouncing here pretty soon and you've got a chair at the dance, but you'd like to improve your chances if you can keep winning."

Should the Orioles and the Yankees end up tied for the division after Wednesday's games, the tiebreaker would be held in Baltimore, since the O's have a better record against AL East opponents. Both the A's and the Rangers -- potential Wild Card opponents -- hold the better season-series mark against the Orioles, who would travel to either respective road city if they end up tied with either of those clubs for the two Wild Card spots.

But the Orioles have said all along that their goal is to bring the AL East title back to Baltimore, and the red-hot Davis ensured that dream was still alive with one swing. With Tampa Bay right-hander James Shields on the mound and dealing -- en route to a Rays record 15 strikeouts -- Davis recorded one of the club's two hits off Shields, a mammoth homer two outs into the fourth inning.

"That was probably the farthest home run I've ever given up in my career," said Shields. "I sent the batboy over and told him to tell him, 'Can you hit it any farther?'

"He said something like, 'I'm sorry, I'll try and hit it 480 feet next time.' I thought that was pretty funny."

The way Davis has been going, it wouldn't have been entirely unexpected. It marked the 26-year-old Davis' sixth straight game with a homer, tying a club record, as it sailed over the fence to hit the top of Tropicana Field's restaurant for a distance of approximately 440 feet.

"I think it takes a lot of pressure off the offense when you don't have to go out and score a ton of runs," said Davis, who has a team-leading 33 homers. "These are playoff-type games. One run may make a difference. I just hope it keeps going."

Gonzalez and another fabulous effort from the Orioles' bullpen -- which improved the club to 74-0 when leading after seven innings -- ensured Tuesday's run would hold up.

"When you have a plane scare, I think you bond really close," closer Jim Johnson, who picked up his 51st save, joked of this year's team camaraderie. "It's just been fun. The guys, for the people who have been with us the whole year, they see how we act inside the clubhouse. In years past, it hasn't been like that, so we have fun. We are not supposed to be here. So why not have fun and see what happens and let it all hang out?"

Gonzalez embodies that attitude. Working on extra rest, the 28-year-old righty held Tampa Bay to two hits and continued what has been one of the biggest feel-good stories of the season in picking up his ninth win. Signed out of the Mexican Winter League, Gonzalez -- who wasn't even invited to Major League Spring Training -- is the second rookie in Orioles history to record a win against each AL East team in his first year.

"He's got that great mentality that he's playing with house money," Showalter said. "You've got nothing to lose. He's one of those guys -- I like that he's not going to go back to the hotel or apartment after a game and go, 'Boy, I wish I had been more aggressive, I wish I had trusted myself, I wish I hadn't given the opposition so much credit.' He's going to say, 'Here's mine, see if you can handle it.' He's going to pitch intelligently, and you give [catcher] Matt Wieters someone like that who can command multiple pitches, he can make it work."

Despite the stage, Gonzalez never looked fazed, striking out seven in a 101-pitch outing that marked his fourth consecutive quality start and lowered his season ERA to 3.25. In two career starts at Tropicana Field, Gonzalez has not allowed a run, a 13 1/3-innings stretch in which he has allowed four hits and struck out 11.

"I'm calm when I'm out there pitching," Gonzalez said. "I'm actually nervous when I'm watching the game. We've been doing a great job all around. [Davis] did a great job today getting the ball over the fence, and our relievers did their job."

Lefty Brian Matusz took over after Gonzalez and recorded the final two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning, as he continues to flourish in a relief role. Matusz handed the ball to right-hander Darren O'Day, who pitched a 1-2-3 eighth to lower his ERA to 2.28, and Johnson extended his Major League lead in saves to 51.

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