You have to try pretty hard to lose a baseball game when you score seven runs. The ordinary, run-of-the-mill failure that is a part of every game is not enough. Losing when you score seven takes an extraordinarily awful effort. Thankfully, the Orioles were not up for that level of failure on Tuesday night. They held off a late Rays rally to hang on for a 7-5 victory.
That's not to say it was a pretty win either, because it wasn't. Something also has to go wrong for a game where you have a 5-0 lead to ever feel tense. The Orioles had just such a lead after a five-run third inning that featured a Chris Davis grand slam, possibly the cheapest grand slam ever recorded in baseball history. They all look the same in the box score.
With the bases full of Orioles, Davis swatted a ball down the left field line. Only a very strong left-handed man could pull that off. Davis is such a man that he can take an outside pitch - thrown, in this case, by former Oriole Erik Bedard - and blast it 315 feet the other way. The ball was initially ruled fair and played out as a two-run double, with Rays left fielder David DeJesus dramatically crashing into the short fence in the left field corner as he tried to catch the ball. After a crew chief review, the umpires were made aware that the ball had bounced off of the foul pole. A grand slam is still a grand slam, even if you have to wait for it.
The home run was Davis's 12th of the season, and the four runs batted in brought his season RBI total up to 37.
Staked to a five run lead by his offense, Orioles starter Miguel Gonzalez did the most Orioles thing he could possibly think of and gave up back-to-back home runs to lead off the bottom of the third. They were solo shots, since it was the start of the inning, which is just about the only relief. The first of them was hit by ninth place hitter Sean Rodriguez, and soared so high that it hit off the catwalk, off the catwalk, yeah, he hit a home run off the catwalk. Desmond Jennings also homered, but that was just a boring homer into the left field seats.
Heading into the game, the Orioles were working on a streak of eight straight quality starts by their starters, the longest since a nine game streak that was split between the end of the 2010 season and the start of the 2011 season. All good things must come to an end, and so this thing did tonight, as Gonzalez surrendered a pair of runs in the fifth inning when James Loney doubled with men on first and second.
After the two runs he gave up in the third, that was enough to end the streak - and Gonzalez didn't come out for the sixth inning anyway. Since Gonzalez gave up three hits and two runs in the fifth and was at 95 pitches, that was probably the right decision. On the night, Gonzalez gave up eight hits and four runs in five innings, walking two while striking out five.
The Orioles struck again while facing Brad Boxberger in the seventh inning. By "the Orioles" I really just mean Steve Pearce, who is continuing to prove that he is awesome and deserves more playing time. Pearce drove a Boxberger pitch into the left field seats following a Caleb Joseph double, providing a couple of insurance runs that proved to be crucial to the game's outcome. That was his fifth home run of the year. Pearce went 2-3 on the night with a double, home run, and two walks, raising his season slash line to .317/.367/.535. Not bad for a guy who got DFA'd earlier in the season.
Why did the runs prove crucial, you might ask? That is a great question that can be answered with two words: Brian Matusz. The maligned lefty relieved Ryan Webb, who had just pitched the sixth and two outs into the seventh. The bases were empty, the Orioles had a three run lead, and a lefty was due up. Matusz retired that lefty, Loney, to end the seventh, which is fine. He came out to start the eighth against a right-handed batter and gave up a double to Ben Zobrist, which is less fine.
The runner was inherited by Darren O'Day and ended up scoring on a Yunel Escobar sacrifice fly, but O'Day did not allow any runs himself despite giving up two hits.
Zach Britton put a stop to the drama in the ninth inning. He retired three batters on three easy groundouts for his eighth save of the year. Gonzalez was credited with the win, raising his record to 4-4; Bedard, who gave up five runs in four innings, took the loss, dropping to 3-5.
With the Blue Jays losing on Tuesday night, the O's win pulls them back to four games behind in the American League East. They sit in third place, half a game behind the Yankees, and are 1.5 games back of the second AL wild card spot - held by Detroit - with two other teams to pass to get there. How that is possible for a team that's two games over .500 is one of those great mysteries.
If the Orioles ever want to be more than a .500 team this year, they'd better beat the bad teams. Tuesday's win gives them a chance to take the series on Wednesday afternoon. Kevin Gausman gets the start for the O's against righty Alex Cobb of the Rays.