BALTIMORE -- With the temperature rising recently, so has the number of balls flying out of Camden Yards.
The Baltimore Orioles led the major leagues with 46 home runs in June, and they continued their power surge into July. They hit three homers, including Nelson Cruz's 26th of the season on his 34th birthday, in an 8-3 victory over the struggling Texas Rangers on Tuesday night in front of an announced 19,150.
The Orioles also received a gritty spot start from T.J. McFarland. He pitched five much-needed innings -- a career high for the left-hander, who has almost exclusively pitched in relief in the majors, in his second major league start.
In the first two games of the four-game series, the Orioles have hit seven home runs. They've outscored the Rangers, 15-4.
"From one through nine, there's home run potential," Orioles catcher Caleb Joseph said. "Now we just need to try and backspin balls that ... go out. I don't think anybody here is trying to hit home runs. ... We've got a bunch of big, strong guys on this team. It's been good, and we'll try and keep barrel on balls and hope they keep flying out."
With the win -- their fourth in five games against the Rangers this season -- the Orioles (44-39) remained one game behind the American League East-leading Toronto Blue Jays, who beat the Milwaukee Brewers, 4-1, on Tuesday.
The Orioles rank second in the majors with 103 home runs, trailing only Toronto's 110. They have hit multiple homers in 24 of their past 41 games.
The Orioles hit two homers in the first inning in back-to-back games, and left fielder Steve Pearce homered in the opening inning both nights from the No. 2 spot in the lineup.
Pearce, who drove in two runs Tuesday, turned on a full-count delivery from Rangers right-hander Nick Martinez in the first inning, hitting his 10th homer of the season just over the left-field fence in front of the foul pole after the ball deflected off Texas left fielder Shin-Soo Choo's glove. Pearce's homer was confirmed after a 41-second replay review.
Two batters later, Cruz lined a low 1-1 delivery into the Orioles bullpen in left-center field, tying the Chicago White Sox's Jose Abreu for the major league lead with 26 home runs.
"It's amazing. Pearce is hitting unbelievable," Cruz said. "It seems like every time we need a big hit, he's there to deliver. Everything has been good -- pitching, defense and offense. I think we are really showing what we're capable of doing as a team."
After the Rangers rallied to tie the game in the top of the second inning, Joseph put the Orioles up 4-2 with his two-run homer in the bottom half of the inning. With two outs, Joseph took a 3-1 pitch into the first row of seats in left field for his third career major league homer.
The Orioles continued to rely on the home run ball -- they were 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position -- on Tuesday night.
Since right-hander Bud Norris went on the 15-day disabled list Friday with a right groin strain, the Orioles were able to push their rotation back a day because of Thursday's day off. But they needed a spot starter for Tuesday's game.
McFarland (1-1) had made just one previous major league start, and his career-long outing was a 4 2/3-inning relief appearance June 8 against the Oakland Athletics. But he was the team's best option to give the Orioles enough innings to avoid overworking the bullpen.
"Obviously coming in in the first inning as opposed to the sixth or seventh, but nothing really changed," McFarland said when asked if it felt different to start. "My mindset was still going out there and throwing strikes and doing exactly what I have been doing."
McFarland allowed two runs and seven hits in five innings with two strikeouts and no walks. He threw 68 pitches, one shy of his career high.
"You want to give him as big of a cushion as you can," Joseph said. "You kind of saw last night with Ubaldo (Jimenez), giving them a lead so you can let the pitchers attack the zone a little bit more. That's ideal. We know that's not going to happen every night. But it was big. What a team effort."
The Rangers (37-46), who have lost 11 of their past 13 games, scored their only two runs off McFarland on rookie Adam Rosales' two-run double in the second. McFarland allowed back-to-back singles to open the fifth but got out of the jam after an inning-ending double play.
"I threw a lot of strikes and, basically, just let the defense help me out," McFarland said. "I got a lot of ground balls, a lot of double plays, and I can't stress it enough that the defense really helped me out."
Texas did not help itself defensively.
After Martinez loaded the bases with one out in the fourth, Joseph hit a grounder to short that could have started an inning-ending double play, but Elvis Andrus couldn't come up with the ball cleanly and J.J. Hardy scored to give the Orioles a 5-2 lead.
The next batter, leadoff hitter Nick Markakis, then laced a two-run double down the right-field line, and Pearce's sacrifice fly to left gave the Orioles an 8-2 cushion.
Martinez (1-6) allowed eight runs -- six of them earned -- on seven hits over five innings as he extended his winless streak to seven starts.
Orioles right-hander Ryan Webb allowed a run on Chris Gimenez's RBI groundout after yielding back-to-back singles to open the sixth, but that was the only run the Orioles bullpen allowed in four innings.
Tommy Hunter, Darren O'Day and Zach Britton each worked a scoreless relief inning, combining to allow just one hit and record four strikeouts in the final three innings.
"It worked out well," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "We felt like they'd be right-handed against T.J., which I would have, too, and we felt like we had some pieces in the bullpen right-handed that could minimize some damage."
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