It's hard to win two games in a single day. It's hard to lose two games in a single day too. The offense that was absent in the first game of the doubleheader showed up for the nightcap, with the major league-leading 25th home run from Nelson Cruz providing the punctuation on a 4-1 Orioles win over the Rays on Friday night, to the delight of a floppy hat-seeking crowd of 34,895 at Camden Yards.
In the afternoon, they did not get very many chances and they made very little of those. Tonight, they did not lack for chances. The Orioles squandered many of their chances for the early parts of the game, starting out by going only 1-8 with runners in scoring position. As Chris Tillman clung to a 1-1 tie, it looked like one of those games that could just turn south in a hurry. Instead, Tillman held the line, and an unlikely Oriole, Nick Hundley, hit his first home run since being traded to the team to break the tie.
While Hundley's home run would prove to be the decisive run in the game, it was the blast from Cruz that really energized the crowd and took the game from tenuous to almost safe-feeling. Cruz's home run came in the seventh inning after a leadoff double from Adam Jones - which was his fourth hit of the night, tying a career high - and, at that late point in the game, put the outcome into the "only a loss in case of epic collapse" column.
There was no epic collapse coming on Friday night.
Against Rays starter Jake Odorizzi, the Orioles had multiple baserunners in three of his five innings, but they could only score in the second inning, when the 6-7-8 combo of J.J. Hardy, David Lough, and Hundley strung together three consecutive singles. The third, from Hundley, was a cheapo dying quail that found the outfield grass before anyone could get to it. They all look the same in the box score.
Hundley's single drove in Hardy from third base and put the Orioles on the board. They were back even with the Rays after Tillman allowed a second inning home run to James Loney, his fifth of the year. This home run did not herald the apocalypse. Rather, it was the lone blip on the radar.
The only inning where Tillman faced a runner in scoring position was the sixth inning, when Kevin Kiermaier reached on an infield single (initially called out, which was successfully overturned after the Rays requested a review) and advanced to third on another single by Evan Longoria. With two out, Tillman got Loney, who had already touched him up, to fly out to center. It was not a threatening fly ball.
Tillman had four 1-2-3 innings and only allowed multiple baserunners in that sixth inning. At 104 pitches thrown and holding a three-run advantage, it wouldn't have been outrageous to send Tillman out to try for a complete game. Orioles manager Buck Showalter instead summoned closer Zach Britton, who iced the game in the way that he does. Britton first struck out Ben Zobrist, then after a Longoria single snuck into left field, he coolly snagged a comebacker to start a 1-6-3 double play and get the Orioles into the win column.
Over his eight innings, Tillman allowed only four hits to the Rays, and they only got one other baserunner on a walk. He only struck out two. The gods of BABIP were on his side Friday night, as they were in his last start as well. Only two strikeouts will probably not fly on a regular basis. He got the job done against the cellar-dwelling Rays, though. The win, raising his record to 7-4, was his first at Camden Yards this season despite a 2.47 ERA at home.
Britton's scoreless inning added to a streak by the Orioles bullpen where they have only allowed one run over their last 24 innings. That was Britton's tenth save of the season in twelve chances. His game-ending double play was also the 95th double play the Orioles have turned this year. They continue to lead the majors in that category.
Juan Carlos Oviedo took the loss for the Rays. He allowed the Hundley home run and is now 3-3 on the year.
The Orioles walked five times in the game, very unlike them. Two of the walks were issued to Chris Davis and another pair were drawn by Manny Machado, who is doing a nice job of coming alive a tiny bit at the plate just in time for his suspension to take effect. Machado also got himself TOOTBLAN'd (thrown out on the basepaths like a nincompoop) by getting picked off after one of those walks, which ended the sixth inning.
A challenge by Showalter of the Machado play was unsuccessful; the Orioles are 7-for-15 on challenges, which would seem to suggest they are doing a poor job of picking their spots, in general.
An even bigger surprise was that of the Orioles' ten hits, four of them came from the 7-8 spots in the order. Typically, that's where dreams and rallies go to die. Lough and Hundley pulled their weight tonight. Ryan Flaherty, the ninth hitter, did nothing good. You can't have everything.
The win in the nightcap, coupled with a Toronto loss to Chicago, pulls the Orioles to within 1.5 games of the lead in the American League East. They have a 22-14 record against their own division. That's the best record, by several games, of any of the other teams in the division against one another. They will be playing the team with the worst record in MLB, the Rays, for two more games. This is the time to turn it on.
Saturday's game has a 4:05 start time. Wei-Yin Chen starts for the Orioles against former Oriole curmudgeon/trade piece Erik Bedard, who gave up five runs in four innings the last time he faced his former team. Let's have a repeat performance of that one, fellas.