Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon joked after Wednesday's game, in which Chris Davis launched a monster home run for the second consecutive game, that in Thursday's game they would just roll the ball up to the plate. He might have been better off if he wasn't joking.
Davis, batting in the second inning with a man on base, crushed his third home run in as many games, the first of a pair of two-RBI hits on the day that powered the Orioles to a 6-3 victory over the Rays. The obscure stat gurus pointed out this is the first time an Orioles player has had a home run in each of the team's first three games of the season since Frank Robinson in 1966.
Robinson only won the Triple Crown that year, batting .316 with 49 home runs and 122 RBI. No big deal. Davis, with 11 RBI through the three games of the series, has driven in more runs than almost half of the teams in MLB have scored at this moment. This is the smallest of small sample sizes, so it doesn't mean anything, but it's still cool.
Unfortunately for the Orioles, not everything went as wonderfully as all that. Brian Roberts suffered an injury while stealing second base in the ninth inning. He came up clutching at his right knee and had to be carried off the field by trainer Richie Bancells and first base coach Wayne Kirby. Roberts did not put any weight at all on the right leg and only barely touched the ground with his left on the way off. He told the beat writers after the game that there was something in the bottom of his hamstring. That's probably less serious than if it was a knee injury, as it initially looked, but there's no way to know with the fragile Roberts, and they haven't offered any speculation about a potential DL trip yet.
With a 6-2 lead, you might have thought there would not be any excitement. Today's MASN duo of Gary Thorne and Jim Palmer were in it's-late-and-not-close mode, throwing out phrases like "marine layer", "sea smoke", and "deciduous haze" within a 30 second span.
Brian Matusz, or maybe the Rays hitters, had other plans. Matusz had a clean 8th, but he started the 9th by hitting Sean Rodriguez and giving up a single to Ben Zobrist. That made it suddenly a save situation, and it was time to summon last year's saves leader, Jim Johnson, to face Evan Longoria.
The stellar Rays third baseman, who has been trading web gem for web gem with Manny Machado this series, welcomed Johnson to the game by driving a pitch deep to left center field. Off the bat, you might have thought it was gone. Adam Jones and Nate McLouth both gave chase and approached the wall to leap to make a play. Neither one came up with the ball and it hit off the wall, ricocheting away from both of them. These are the plays that turn into triples or inside-the-park home runs. So would this one, if Zobrist hadn't been cautiously close to first base, thinking the ball might have been caught, while Longoria ran hard out of the box.
The result was a play you don't see every day, with Longoria called out for passing Zobrist on the base path. Replays were inconclusive on whether he actually passed Zobrist, but it was the kind of play that you might never have even seen in Little League. Maddon protested, the crowd booed, but out is out. Rodriguez scored on the play, Zobrist stopped at third and Longoria was only credited with a single.
Johnson got Shelley Duncan - who was the agent of destruction on Wednesday - to pop out to second, then raised our collective heart rate by walking Yunel Escobar to bring the tying run to the plate. Would this be another game of bullpen regression? Of course not. Johnson retired James Loney on an easy pop out, his second save of the year.
Lost in all the excitement was a solid enough first outing of the year by Miguel Gonzalez, who gave up two runs in 6.1 IP on five hits and two walks. The damage was dealt to him on four singles up the middle, just out of the reach of infielders. He fought back, getting Ryan Roberts to hit a grounder to Machado for an easy around-the-horn double play.
Jones quietly had a 3-for-5 game, with two more singles to the opposite field. The dreaded small sample size appears again, but if Jones can do more of that, you can believe he's about to take another step forward as a hitter. Teams must respect Jones as a power threat, so dinks and dunks to the opposite field will fall in with frequency. He would score two runs for the day.
The O's were 1-10 with runners in scoring position on the day. Most games, that will burn you, but it turns out that hitting home runs with a man on first base is good for scoring runs and doesn't count towards your RISP totals. When Davis is at the plate, everyone is in scoring position, including Davis himself. J.J. Hardy also hit a two-run shot.
Because he's awesome - and also still finding his way at the plate, so we need to like his defense - enjoy these Machado defensive highlights from the game:
The team will head out of Tampa the victors in their first series of the year. Tomorrow afternoon is the home opener in Baltimore. The weather forecast looks to have improved. Jake Arrieta starts for the Orioles and Liam Hendriks starts for the Twins in the 3:05pm game.