Ugly wins and pretty wins count just the same in the standings. There was little beautiful baseball to be found in a cold and windy 39-degree game on Wednesday afternoon, but there was certainly baseball. The Orioles came out to play and the Rays offense did not. The O's walked away with a 3-0 victory, sending the crowd of 22,611 home warm and happy. The Rays have only scored one run in their last 18 innings. That's really too bad.
Early in the game, there was that familiar feel of a display of hitting ineptitude. The first Oriole to bat in the game, Nick Markakis, had a single that only a hitter with a .311 slugging percentage could have made into a single. Not that it would have mattered if he'd made it to second base, because Rays starter Jake Odorizzi retired the next nine Orioles hitters he faced.
Meanwhile, Orioles starter Miguel Gonzalez was on the wild side. As Orioles starters tend to do, he gave up a few walks and could not put hitters away, leading to prolonged at-bats full of foul balls. The fourth inning was where he ran into the most trouble, with a one-out walk to James Loney turning into a man in scoring position after a wild pitch. When Desmond Jennings reached on an infield single, the Rays had their first real promising scoring opportunity.
Luckily for the Orioles, David DeJesus hit a line drive that was within the range of Markakis, who took a couple of steps and fell over in the general direction of the ball, just barely snagging it in his glove before it could hit the grass. Loney must have been confident that Markakis would not field the ball, because he was caught all the way around third base. Markakis doubled him off of second with ease, shutting down the Rays chances.
For once, the Orioles offense came through after a tough inning to give Gonzalez a breather. Nelson Cruz took a walk to lead off the bottom of the fourth, already his seventh walk of the year. Chris Davis followed with a single into right field, putting two men on with none out for the ailing Adam Jones, who would have missed last night's game due to the flu if it had been played. Rays third baseman Evan Longoria played back, because you have to respect that Jones can hit the ball hard. Jones took advantage of the situation with a beautiful drag bunt. Longoria had no play. Everyone was safe, bases loaded, nobody out.
The Oriole thing to do would have been an instant 1-2-3 double play. Matt Wieters instead took a baseball for a ride to the deepest part of the stadium, a fly ball that would have likely been a grand slam on a 90-degree July day. Jennings caught the ball against the fence for an RBI sacrifice fly, breaking the scoreless tie. J.J. Hardy added another run on an ugly dribbler that rolled just far enough that Odorizzi's only play was to first base.
In the fifth inning, the O's managed to load the bases once again, this time with two outs. Ryan Flaherty had a one-out walk, followed by a Markakis single, his second hit of the day. Davis walked to load the bases, bringing up Jones, who managed a swinging bunt that rolled along the grass, angling towards the foul line. The Rays fielders could do nothing but stop and stare and try to will the ball foul. As it rolled from the grass to the dirt, its motion stopped just shy of the chalk. Friction is a beautiful thing, isn't it?
The grounder scored Flaherty and left the bases loaded. Wieters hit another fly ball to center that would have scored a run if there had been fewer than two outs.
Gonzalez was out of the game after five innings, having hit 98 pitches. He allowed three hits and walked three batters while striking out six. That's not too shabby, though you'd like him to go deeper in the game. His season ERa now stands at 6.28. He was relieved by Zach Britton, who continued his streak of early-season dominance. The Orioles went to Britton for three innings and he blanked the Rays, still sporting a 0.00 ERA after 11.1 innings pitched this season.
There was danger in the seventh inning as the Rays loaded the bases thanks largely to some cheap garbage hits, none of which even left the infield. That brought Wil Myers to the plate, representing the go-ahead run if he were to hit a grand slam. Instead, he struck out for the third and final time on the day, bringing his season slash line to .200/.259/.240, which is currently sub-Markakian. That's also too bad.
Even after that difficult seventh, Britton still came out for the eighth. He pitched a clean inning. You have to wonder whether the O's are thinking about stretching him out enough to stick him in the rotation again. This was not an exciting prospect when it was first mooted. Yet he's looked so good in relief that you have to wonder if he's finally figured something out that could translate to success as a starter. If not, maybe the O's just want to keep him in the routine of being a multi-inning reliever. A guy who can come out of the bullpen and go two or three innings any day is still someone with value.
Tommy Hunter stepped onto the mound in the ninth, because he's the closer, what do you expect. He allowed a leadoff single just to make things interesting and then retired the rest of the side in order for his fourth save of the year, bringing the Orioles back to .500 with a 7-7 record with this two-game sweep. An off day follows on Thursday, then the O's head to Fenway for four games with the current cellar dwellars of the East, the Red Sox. Here's hoping the O's don't let them up out of the cellar in the process.
The opening game of the series will be Friday, starting at 7:10pm, with Chris Tillman facing off against John Lackey.