BALTIMORE - If Andy Sonnanstine felt any extra pressure Wednesday against the Orioles, he didn't show it. If the Rays felt any residual hangover the day after their season-best six-game win streak came to an end, they didn't show that, either.
An 8-1 victory at chilly Camden Yards was the perfect way to finish the hottest April in Rays history, a month that ended with Tampa Bay (15-12) tied for a share of second place in the American League East.
"Since the beginning of spring training, toward the end of last year, this is the team that we want to be," said Rays first baseman Carlos Pena. "This is the team that we envisioned. And to be playing like it, it's so much fun. It really is."
"It's something to build on," said Rays manager Joe Maddon, whose team went 14-12 for the best April in franchise history. "Let's have the best May now."
Sonnanstine (4-1) used eight strong innings to make his case to remain part of Tampa Bay's starting rotation when Scott Kazmir comes off the disabled list to pitch Sunday in Boston.
Maddon wouldn't tip his hand in that regard. But the fact that Sonnanstine became the first pitcher in team history to win four times in April didn't hurt.
"We all know what's coming up in the next couple of days, and we have a tough decision to make," Maddon said. "But he's making a good case for himself."
Sonnanstine finished his month by allowing the Orioles to score one run on six hits. The only real trouble he faced came when Baltimore loaded the bases on Brian Roberts' third-inning, run-scoring single.
That forged a 1-all tie and set up the turning point of the night. Sonnanstine rose to the occasion by striking out Melvin Mora and Luke Scott in succession, the first of 12 consecutive Orioles set down by Sonnanstine from the third to the seventh innings.
"Definitely, there was a little adrenaline with the bases loaded," Sonnanstine said. "I didn't want anybody else to score. I was little frustrated with myself. I got aggressive there, and it worked out."
Sonnanstine knew the stakes coming in. Not even his three-hit shutout of the White Sox, which began his current personal three-game win streak, might have been enough to convince the front office to keep him around upon Kazmir's return.
Other numbers, as in Sonnanstine's remaining minor-league options, were not in his favor. The other two potential rotation casualties, Edwin Jackson and Jason Hammel, are out of options.
While he said he tried not to think of that coming into his sixth start of the year, Sonnanstine acknowledged it might have added to his motivation.
"The motivation's always there," he said. "This is a job where I feel like I don't have to come to work every day. I get to play a game for a living. So, every day showing up and getting my work in is motivation enough. But when you know there's an opportunity you possibly won't be here, maybe that helps me strive to do a little bit better."
Eric Hinske's sixth home run of the season gave the Rays a 3-1 lead in the fourth. A five-run seventh, keyed by two-run singles by Pena and Dioner Navarro, broke it open.
In the eighth, Orioles reliever Dennis Sarfate and Pena got into a brief shouting match as Pena batted with runners at first and second. While Sarfate wouldn't comment on the yelling, several Rays and Orioles players overheard Sarfate complaining that he thought Pena was trying to sneak a peek at catcher Ramon Hernandez's pitch signs.
"That's the only thing I can think of that maybe he was complaining about, but it's totally untrue," Pena said. "To begin with, to look at the catcher's signs and still be ready to hit a 95-mph fastball, that's kind of tough to do. ... Not only do you have to look at the sign, you have to know their sequence, and then you have to turn around and look at the ball and try and hit it."
Umpires quickly squelched the disagreement, and Pena grounded into an inning-ending double play.