Nick Johnson (36), once a member of the Washington Nationals, hit the winning home run for the Orioles against the Rays in a battle for first place in the AL East. (Greg Fiume/GETTY IMAGES)

Nick Johnson’s brief career in a Baltimore Orioles uniform has been less than stellar.

Yet on Friday night, Johnson, who opened the season with an 0-for-28 slump, hit the winning two-run homer in the seventh inning to give the Orioles a 4-3 win over the Tampa Bay Rays in front of 26,669 at Camden Yards.

The win gave the Orioles (21-12) a one-game lead over the Rays in the AL East after the opening game of this weekend’s three-game series.

Gone was the bad taste of losing three of four to the Texas Rangers to open this 10-game homestand. The Orioles scored all their runs off homers. Johnson’s homer followed solo shots by outfielders Adam Jones and Nick Markakis.

Trailing 3-2 in the seventh, Johnson, who entered the game hitting .086 (3 for 35) against right-handed pitching, took Rays right-handed reliever Joel Peralta’s full-count offering over the grounds crew shed in right-center field.

It was Johnson’s first homer as an Oriole and his first major league homer in more than two years. His most recent one came May 5, 2010, with the Yankees against the Orioles. Johnson, a former member of the Washington Nationals, spent last season in the minors nursing a nagging right wrist injury.

“It felt great,” Johnson said. “I was seeing the ball pretty well tonight.”

Orioles left-hander Dana Eveland, whose contract was purchased from Class AAA Norfolk before the game to fill the club’s empty starting rotation spot, gave the Orioles just their second quality start in their past six games.

— Baltimore Sun