Orioles 10, Rays 7: Sleeping bats awaken as bullpen makes an O's win interesting

J. Meric

Chris Tillman was good and Matt Moore was not, but neither was the Orioles bullpen, leading to way more excitement than there needed to be as the Orioles avoided a sweep with a 10-7 victory.

In twelve starts this season, Chris Tillman had been given a loss in two games. Both of these games came against the Rays, and both games, the opposing starter was Matt Moore. That would be his opponent today, as well. As the saying goes, the third time is the charm. Tillman outpitched Moore, whom the Orioles beat up for nine runs, which they would need to hold on for what was a 10-7 victory to stave off the sweep.

Tillman pitched a little better than in the two losses, though not that much. He only allowed five baserunners in six innings, with three runs scoring. Only two were earned, with one unearned run coming when a runner moved into scoring position on a passed ball and later scored. There was also the obligatory solo home run surrendered to Ben Zobrist.

The difference came with the Orioles hitters actually scoring some runs off Moore. After slumbering for the first two games of the series, the dormant bats awakened in the first inning of the game, and they kept on attacking Moore.

At the beginning of the game, that "here we go again" feeling was present: Nick Markakis hit a weak grounder back to Moore on the first pitch of the game, and then Manny Machado was hit by a pitch on his right shin. Here, as ever, danced the grim scenarios through our minds.

J.J. Hardy dispelled the ghosts of the past with a double to center that Desmond Jennings misplayed. He was probably not deep enough, and the ball bounced off of the end of his glove. Machado wheeled around the bases even having been unsure if the ball would be caught. He was fine. Hardy scored when Adam Jones hit another double, giving the O's a 2-0 lead before Tillman even came on to pitch.

They would keep up the pace, scoring three runs in each of the next two innings. They had six hits in the past two games combined, including four hits yesterday, none of which were for extra bases. There were seven doubles in today's game alone. Hardy, Jones, and Steve Pearce all had three-hit games, with Alexi Casilla and Matt Wieters also having multi-hit games.

In all, Moore would give up twelve hits and nine runs - eight earned - in five innings of work. Though he entered the game walking a batter more often than every other inning, he only had one walk today. But when he's throwing hittable stuff in there, why wait for the walk?

Jones hit his 12th home run of the year in the fourth inning and finished a triple shy of the cycle.

You might be wondering why, if Tillman pitched well and Moore did not pitch well, this game ended up with Jim Johnson having to record his 21st save. There is a simple and unfortunate answer to this question, which is: Brian Matusz. He came on to get some work in the eighth inning. He faced seven batters and did not make it out of the inning. Matusz gave up five hits, including a two-run home run to Sam Fuld before he'd even retired a batter. He was not done giving up hits, with three singles coming, with even lefty Luke Scott getting in on the act.

Tommy Hunter came in from the bullpen with two men on base and two outs in the eighth, relieving Matusz, who left the mound to the terrifying organ sound of the Phantom of the Opera. I don't know why either, okay. Hunter would be in line for a save if he finished the game, because the tying run was on deck. He struck out Jennings to end that threat, but gave up a couple of singles in the ninth inning, leading to Johnson's appearance with two outs.

Johnson only had to get one out. He gave up a single to pinch-hitter Jose Lobaton, which scored a run and brought the tying run up to the plate. Why must this happen? I wish I knew. I feared the home run, but instead Kelly Johnson popped out to Hardy and that was the game. The Orioles avoided the sweep and pulled themselves back up to third place in the AL East. The division is the only one in baseball with four above-.500 teams. The National League East only has the division-leading Braves above .500.

We all know that the bullpen was one of the big strengths of the team last year, with five of the mainstays having pitched over 50 innings with an ERA under 3.00. This year, there are only two: Hunter and Darren O'Day, who pitched the seventh today without any drama at all.

Are the bullpen struggles from over-work due to the rotation struggles? Whatever it is, it is a problem. When you score ten runs, you should win easily, and the Orioles can't even reliably say that right now. Last year's bullpen had an ERA of 3.00. This year's bullpen, after today's game, has an ERA of exactly 4.00. That is one reason why a 29-9 record in one-run games turns into an 8-8 record.

As bad as the first two games of the series felt, the O's escape the road trip with a 3-3 record and they head back to Baltimore to open up a three-game series with the disappointing Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Do not rest easy, however: the opening game features the excellent Jered Weaver (3.13 ERA) taking on the sweat-cellent Freddy Garcia (4.70 ERA). The Monday game will get under way at 7:05 pm.

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