Rays hitters punished Orioles starter Steve Trachsel, building a nine-run lead in the first two innings before coasting home to an 11-4 win in front of a crowd of 30,445 on Saturday night at Tropicana Field.
The win moved Tampa Bay to 29-20 on the season while maintaining its lock on second place in the American League East and establishing a team record at nine games over .500. In addition, the win moved the Rays' home record to 18-8, and they have won 14 of their last 15 home games; the team is 12-4 in its last 16 games.
Jackson has been Tampa Bay's hard-luck pitching story all season long. Whenever the right-hander pitched, the Rays' hitters seemed to struggle. A plight referred to in baseball circles as the "bad slot" in the rotation.
Entering Saturday night's contest, Jackson's last win was April 10 against the Mariners after he pitched eight scoreless innings. He then went seven consecutive starts without a win. The right-hander pitched 40 2/3 innings during that stretch, and the Rays totaled just nine runs. During the last part of that run, Jackson allowed just one run in 20 1/3 innings, yet he did not get a decision.
Despite the offensive backing, Jackson did not find the going easy, as he struggled to find the strike zone. Of the 101 pitches he threw, just 55 were for strikes, and he walked five, but managed to get through five innings to claim the long-awaited "W."
"One of those days, you feel bad, you look bad," Jackson said. "It was just one of those nights when nothing feels right, nothing looks right. You just try to keep things from snowballing."
Jackson earned his teammates' respect for his effort.
"He really battled through those five innings tonight," Evan Longoria said. "[The offensive production] made it a little bit easier for him to get through it."
Added Carlos Pena: "I know [Jackson] had to battle today. Great job. Showed a lot of heart. ... We're a team, so we try to pick each other up."
The Orioles had their best chance in the first inning, when they loaded the bases with one out before Jackson escaped the jam via an inning-ending double play. Rays hitters then got to work building a much-deserved cushion for Jackson.
Pena doubled off Trachsel to drive home the Rays' first run before Longoria capped the first-inning scoring with a three-run homer to put the Rays up, 4-0.
The Rays got busy again in the second when B.J. Upton doubled home two, Pena tripled home another and Longoria connected for a two-run homer to give the Rays a 9-0 lead. Pena, who finished a home run shy of the cycle, added an RBI single in the fourth, and Longoria drove home his career-high sixth run with a sacrifice fly to push the Rays' lead to 11-3.
Trachsel was charged with allowing nine earned runs and left to ponder what went wrong.
"I missed some spots, but even when I was hitting spots, they were hitting the ball hard, so I might be tipping my pitches," Trachsel said. "If that's not it, I have some serious things to figure out."
The 11-run outburst accounted for the most runs the Rays have scored at home since defeating the O's, 17-2, on Sept. 5 last year. The top of Tampa Bay's order from the Nos. 2-5 spots went 11-for-15 with two home runs and 11 RBIs, leaving manager Joe Maddon looking ahead to more production in future games.
"I like the quality of the at-bats," Maddon said. "They'll start feeding off each other like our pitching staff. When you have [Eric] Hinske batting eighth and [Jason] Bartlett hitting ninth, you have a pretty talented lineup."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.