BALTIMORE — It wasn't long ago, when the Tampa Bay Rays dug such a deep hole to start the season, that everybody seemed ready to shovel red clay on them.
But by the time the Rays were done beating the Orioles 5-3 Sunday, setting a franchise record with their eighth consecutive road win by completing a three-game sweep, the team walking out of Camden Yards was in a virtual tie with the Yankees atop the American League East.
"It says we're pretty good," Rays DH Johnny Damon said. "We know our starting pitching has been solid. We have the best defense around. And it seems like we've been getting big hits.
"When someone doesn't come through, the next one is ready and willing to pick the guy up."
Despite an 0-6 and 1-8 start, only .006 separates the Rays (20-14, .588) from the Yankees (19-13, .594) in the standings.
But the Rays insist their revival might have more to do with the 6 inches between the ear flaps of their batting helmets.
"I think the cool thing about this clubhouse is that we all kept staying positive and said, 'Let's just play tomorrow, let's just work on our game and not think about the results right now,' " said Ben Zobrist, who extended his hitting streak to 14 games. "Let's just try to play our game and get better every day."
The Rays also avenged a three-game sweep by Baltimore to start the season at Tropicana Field.
They did it Sunday by centerfielder B.J. Upton driving in four runs with a pair of clutch hits and using a suddenly deep bullpen to rescue shaky starter Wade Davis, who allowed three runs and four hits while walking five.
Upton appealed the two-game suspension from Major League Baseball he received Saturday because he wanted to play in Baltimore, where he has had success at the plate.
"I like hitting here because I normally have a lot of family and friends come in," said Upton, who was born in Norfolk, Va. "This is a good field for me, it's kind of close to home and I like playing here."
Upton went 7-for-14 in the series, and the eight runs he drove in were more than the Orioles scored against the Rays all weekend. The centerfielder raised his average to .297 with nine homers and 31 RBIs in 39 games at Camden Yards.
"Yeah, he felt really strongly about playing here," manager Joe Maddon said. "Nice job."
Meanwhile, All-Star third baseman Evan Longoria, who left the second game of the season with a strained left oblique, went 5-for-12 with five RBIs in the series. Closer Kyle Farnsworth got the last four outs Sunday for his seventh save in eight tries.
Only eight teams in major-league history have begun the season 0-6 and improved to five games above .500 at any point. The last team to do it was the 1995 Reds, and the last in the AL was the '91 Mariners. Since the 0-6 start, the Rays have gone 20-8.
"Of course, to start out the way we did and where we're at right now, it's a tribute to our guys and how they go after the day," Maddon said. "As a manager, I appreciate that."
Damon, who called a closed-door meeting with players following the six losses, credited players and coaches for hanging together.
"We were definitely upset about it," Damon said. "But we also knew we had 156 more games to go, that we understood teams in the past that have won go through that all the time, just hardly ever at the beginning of the season. … It's been a nice journey."