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Tampa Bay Rays beat Baltimore Orioles 3-1 to open key road trip

BALTIMORE — After starting his Rays tenure with a splash, infielder Brooks Conrad spent most of the past three weeks in a slump.

Conrad didn't get as many starts, and when he got into some key pinch-hitting situations, he struggled, entering Tuesday in a 1-for-18 skid, with 13 strikeouts.

"I was 1-for-something terrible," said Conrad, who was claimed off waivers from the Brewers on June 21. "Obviously I had some chances."

But Conrad made the most of his opportunity Tuesday night, delivering a go-ahead two-run homer with two outs in the fifth inning to lift the Rays to a 3-1 victory over the Orioles in front of 17,592 at Camden Yards.

Conrad's blast allowed right-hander Jeremy Hellickson to pick up his first win since May 16 and Tampa Bay (50-47) to start a big nine-game road trip against three wild-card contenders on the right foot.

"It was one of the more unexpected sources," manager Joe Maddon said of Conrad. "When they do step up like that it makes a huge difference."

Equally unexpected was how eventful the ninth inning was for All-Star closer Fernando Rodney, who has made most of his 28 saves relatively stress-free. But with one out, Rodney walked two — equaling his total from his previous 21 appearances combined — to bring the potential winning run to the plate in All-Star centerfielder Adam Jones. Rodney, who said he wasn't as sharp partly because he hadn't pitched since Friday, fell behind 3-and-0 to Jones before striking him out swinging on three consecutive changeups. He ended it by striking out Matt Wieters.

"Even if you know what is coming," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said, "it's still tough (to hit)."

Said Jones: "He went to the All-Star Game for a reason."

Maddon said Rodney's strikeout of Jones was "probably the biggest play of the night," but Hellickson made it all possible with an "outstanding" 61/3-inning performance. Maddon said Hellickson was more aggressive with his fastball and more judicious with his changeup, pitching a "brighter" game.

As a result, Hellickson (5-6) allowed just three hits and had his first outing without a walk since April 30.

"I've been saying, I've just got to get ahead of guys," he said. "And I did a good job of that."

Outfielder Sam Fuld, who was activated from the disabled list and made his season debut Tuesday, helped spark the Rays' go-ahead rally in the fifth. Fuld, who went 1-for-3 with a bunt single and a stolen base, worked a one-out walk. Conrad, coming up with two outs, fell behind 1-and-2 to lefty Wei-Yin Chen before ripping a slider into the leftfield seats.

It could be the last hit in Conrad's latest stint with the Rays, who need to make room for infielder Ryan Roberts, acquired Tuesday from the Diamondbacks. But it came at just the right time.

"It felt really good to do something offensively for the team," said Conrad, who has four RBIs in his past 17 games after getting five in his first three with the Rays. "We all know we can hit. It's coming."

Tampa Bay Rays beat Baltimore Orioles 3-1 to open key road trip 07/24/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 9:04am]
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