If there is one word I'd use to describe this game between the Baltimore Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays, that word is bananas. It was a back and forth affair on the scoreboard as the Orioles again got to David Price and as Miguel Gonzalez just wasn't as good as we hoped. It featured Steve Pearce, who was 0-for-13 coming into the season, hitting a go ahead run. And it had Darren O'Day, normally as steady as can be, giving up a homer to a guy who is very bad at hitting baseballs. And in the end, it had a walk off grand slam from Matt Wieters to secure the 10-6 victory.
The first inning was not good to Miguel Gonzalez, as the suddenly homer happy Rays hung two runs on him via two solo homers. Both were hit by players who already had homered in the series: Evan Longoria and Desmond Jennings. It put Gonzalez in an early hole, and after David Price struck out the side to start his game, the Rays tacked on another solo run in the second to take a 3-0 lead.
The second inning was a tough one for Gonzalez. He struck out Shelley Duncan for the first out, but then loaded the bases on two singles and a hit by pitch. Jennings hit a long fly ball out to left field to drive in a run, and with one base again open, Gonzalez walked Kelly Johnson to re-load them. A pep talk from Rick Adair seemed to help him, though, and he retired Ben Zobrist to end the inning.
Wieters had the first at bat of a very big night in the second inning and hit a double in to the right field corner. Chris Davis, who looked better at the plate today, drove Wieters in with a single, and three batters later Nolan Reimold hit his second home run of the year to tie the game at three.
Just as soon as the Orioles dug themselves out of the hole, Gonzalez put them right back in. Well, J.J. Hardy might also have had something to do with it. With one out, Matt Joyce singled and Gonzalez walked Shelley Duncan, which is inexcusable. James Loney then hit a ground ball to Davis at first. Davis went to second for one out and the return throw from Hardy sailed away from Gonzalez, who was covering. Joyce scored on the play to make the score 4-3. The error was on Hardy, but the walk of Duncan was on Gonzalez.
Both pitchers then settled down for several innings, then in the bottom of the fifth the O's got one back. With two outs, Alexi Casilla doubled, then Nick Markakis hit a ground ball to short stop. Yunel Escobar threw high and Markakis dove into first to avoid the tag. That's one of the only times a slide at first makes sense. Manny Machado stepped to the plate and drove a ball to deep left field. It bounced off the wall and while Casilla scored easily, a late stop sign by the third base coach left Markakis too far off the base. He stopped halfway to home and was thrown out.
It was a brand new ball game, though, as the score was tied. Unfortunately it got untied in the top of the sixth thanks to a homer from Jose Molina. When back-to-back singles followed that, Gonzalez's day was over. It was not a good day. Brian Matusz came in to pitch and was fantastic. He got the last out of the inning and then pitched a perfect seventh, preserving the tie until the O's offense could fire up another rally.
That rally came in the bottom of the seventh from two unlikely sources. Hardy, who has looked putrid at the plate so far this season, doubled to right center field. I happened to be listening on the radio at the time and Joe Angel and Fred Manfra were debating the idea of having the next batter, Steve Pearce, bunt. I thought it was a bad idea since Hardy was already in scoring position, and the Orioles agree. Pearce worked relief pitcher Jake McGee to a 3-2 count and then crushed a fastball to left field. It was a no doubter and it gave the O's a 6-5 lead. Not a bad way to get your first hit of the season (although I imagine Pearce wishes it had come a lot sooner).
With a one-run lead, all the Orioles had to do was send Darren O'Day out for the eighth, then Jim Johnson for the ninth, and it'd be over, right? Wrong. At some point tonight we slipped into bizarro world. I wasn't sure when Pearce homered, but when Darren O'Day gave up a homer to James Loney, I knew I had to be watching Orioles baseball in some kind of alternate universe. The homer tied the game 6-6, which is where it would stay until the bottom of the tenth.
Three straight singles by Markakis, Machado, and Jones loaded the bases to start the ninth. If you were just looking at a box score, that might sound about normal if one or more of the singles was of the infield variety or hit sharply to the left fielder to keep the runner from scoring, etc. But that's not exactly what happened. With Markakis on second and Machado on first, Adam Jones hit a ball to deep right field. It looked like a walk off hit, but Markakis held up at second in case it was caught. By the time he got to running, it was too late and he had to stop at third. Manny stood in the baseline just between second and third base and Jones almost passed him. Luckily everyone got back to their bases safely so that Matt Wieters could step to the plate. This is what he did:
The grand slam ended the game in a hurry and gave the Orioles the series win. There were a lot of shenanigans in tonight's game, but that beautiful swing is pretty much all I'll remember about it.