The important thing about this game is that the Orioles won. Every win counts the same, but let me tell you, this one was ugly. They botched multiple chances with runners in scoring position, Manny Machado made two early misplays, Chris Tillman cruised through six innings only to fall apart with no warning in the seventh, and Tommy Hunter tried to give us a heart attack in the ninth inning before locking down the save. But hey, a win's a win.
Let's start with Tillman, who gave up two runs in the first inning on a home run by Evan Longoria. Tillman got two quick outs before Matt Joyce hit a ground ball to third base base. Machado was shifted over towards second base, but got to the ball only to have it hit off of his glove and go into left field. It was an awkward looking play as Manny wasn't in the exact position to field, but I think it should have been called an error. The official scorer disagreed with me. That set the table for Longoria, who hit an 0-2 meatball over the center field wall to give the Rays the lead.
The Orioles got one run back in the third inning when Steve Pearce hit a serious home run off of Rays starter Chris Archer. It was Pearce's first home run of the year, and it was a beauty. The Orioles then tied and went ahead of the Rays with one run each in the fourth and fifth innings, but it was one of the more disappointing go-ahead rallies you'll ever see.
Nelson Cruz and Adam Jones singled to start the fourth inning, then Matt Wieters hit what looked like a double play ball. But Yunel Escobar couldn't handle the throw to second base from Ben Zobrist and every one was safe. It was a gift, but the Orioles didn't exactly make the most of it. J.J. Hardy gave the ball a ride to deep left field, but it stayed in the park. Cruz came in to score the tying run, and the other two runners also tagged up. Matt Wieters tagged up from first to second, y'all. Crazy times.
Unfortunately, the heads up play by both runners ended up meaning nothing. Team Steve had two chances to get the runners in as the next two batters in the lineup were Steve Clevenger and Steve Pearce. But Clevenger struck out and Pearce grounded out to end the inning.
As if that wasn't disappointing enough, they did the same thing the very next inning. Ryan Flaherty doubled down the right field line, Nick Markakis walked, and Machado singled to left field to load the bases with no outs. After Cruz struck out, it was Adam Jones' turn to hit a sac fly. Wieters had a chance to do some damage, but he hit a fly ball to right field that Wil Myers caught in foul territory.
So there you go. Nine opportunities with runners in scoring position in two innings, and the only hit was the single by Machado that didn't score a run. If the Orioles hadn't gone on to win the game, I would be fuming over that for days.
After the homer in the first inning, Tillman settled in. He didn't allow another hit until there were two outs in the fifth, though the Rays did have two base runners in that time, one on an error by Machado in the second inning and the other on a walk in the fourth. Tillman did allow two straight two-out singles in the fifth inning, but induced a ground ball from Desmond Jennings to end the inning.
Tillman needed just 10 pitches (and a nice catch by Markakis) to get the Rays 1-2-3 in the sixth inning, and he looked like he could easily go another inning. That turned out to not be the case. He allowed the first two batters to reach via walk and single, and that was it for his night. He was playing by the Wei-Yin Chen playbook and turned into a pumpkin when he got near 100 pitches. He exited the game with a 3-2 lead but with the tying and go ahead runs on base.
Enter Darren O'Day, charged with getting three outs without allowing a run. The Orioles executed a great play as the next batter, Escobar, bunted. Both Pearce and Machado charged from the corners while Hardy and Flaherty covered third and first base. The bunt went to Pearce who fired to third to get the lead runner.
Unfortunately the good feelings from that play were short lived as O'Day hit the next batter to load the bases, and then give up a long fly ball to allow the tying run (charged to Tillman) to score. It was disheartening, but the O's got the lead right back in the top of the eighth inning.
With Wieters on first base and one out, Clevenger hit a double to right field that came very close to being a two-run home run. Wieters didn't score because Matt Wieters scoring from first on any kind of hit is a sign of the apocalypse, but the hit put two runners in scoring position. Pearce worked a walk to load the bases, giving Flaherty the chance to play hero. And you know what? He did! A single to right field knocked in Wieters, and a force out by Markakis brought in another run. That gave the O's a two-run lead that they didn't relinquish despite Tommy Hunter's best efforts.
If you happen to be examining the box score and notice an on-field delay of 19 minutes during the eighth inning, it is because some of the lights went out at Tropicana Field. Apparently a nearby transformer was struck by lightning, causing the problem. The lights never did come back on, but the Orioles and Rays decided to play on.
With the delay over and the lead in hand, Tommy Hunter came in to get the save. And as you know, it wouldn't be an Orioles win without some 9th inning dramatics. Hunter came in and gave up a single to David DeJesus, followed by a wild pitch that allowed him to move to second base. To make matters worse, he walked Escobar to put the tying run on base with no outs. The Rays did the Orioles the favor of bunting for an out, which moved the tying run into scoring position. Buck Showalter made the gutsy decision to intentionally walk lefty Ben Zobrist, putting the winning run on base. That was a tough call, but with Hunter's poor performance against lefties, the thought behind the move wasunderstandable.
Desmond Jennings hit a shallow fly ball to Nick Markakis for the second out, bringing Logan Forsythe to the plate. It would have been lefty Matt Joyce coming up, in which event I would have confidently predicted a walk-off grand slam, but Joe Maddon had pinch hit for him against Zach Britton the previous inning. Thanks, Joe! Forsythe struck out to end the game, and finally we could breathe again.
With the win, the Orioles move to 16-14 and maintain their hold on first place. The O's and Rays will be back in action tomorrow at 7 p.m. with Bud Norris taking the mound for the O's against lefty Cesar Ramos for the Rays.