Offense was hard to come by at Tropicana Field Saturday afternoon in Tampa Bay, Florida. Kevin Gausman threw seven strong innings with great velocity. However, the Rays ended up taking the game on a walk off passed ball in the bottom of the ninth by a score of 3-2.
Chris Davis wasn't supposed to start this game. The first lineup posted by manager Buck Showalter had the left-handed swinging Davis on the bench with Jimmy Paredes starting at the hot corner. It made sense as the man they call "Crush" has been worse against southpaws than righties, and the Tampa starter, Drew Smyly does happen to throw with his left hand.
When word hit the big man's ears, he wasn't too happy about it. A few minutes later, the lineup was adjusted. This time, it had Davis batting fifth and playing third base. Sorry, Jimmy.
Wouldn't you know it, in the top of the second inning, Davis led off with a line drive home run on the first pitch he saw from Smyly. His 26th round-tripper of the season put the Orioles up 1-0 for the time being.
It seemed as though Baltimore was just getting things started. Delmon Young and Nick Hundley followed Davis with back-to-back singles. Ryan Flaherty attempted to advance the runners with a sacrifice bunt. Evan Longoria fielded the bunt and threw to second base for the fielder's choice. But the O's still had an opportunity with runners on the corners and one out.
Unfortunately, the lineup couldn't solve the Rays starter the rest of the inning, or the game for that matter. Jonathan Schoop struck out (he did that a lot) and Nick Markakis grounded out to first baseman James Loney.
That is as much as the Birds would do against Smyly, who was pretty darn good again today. Though he only went six innings, he managed to strike out eight while walking two, allowing four hits and just the one run. Over his last two starts against the O's he has thrown 13 innings and allowed two runs on six hits. Perfect, Tampa has another awesome pitcher.
On the other side of the ball, Gausman looked mighty impressive himself. He managed to go seven innings for his longest outing since July 30, when he pitched against the Angels. In those innings today he gave up two runs on five hits and seven strikeouts. The thing that may have kept him from earning a win in this one was his issuing of four walks, one of which scored.
The Tampa offense was contained to one inning for most of the game. In the third inning, with Gausman on the mound, Ben Zobrist earned a one-out walk. David DeJesus followed with a single down the right field line. Zobrist advanced to third base on the hit. Longoria then sent a deep fly ball to centerfield. It was caught by Adam Jones and Zobrist trotted home to tie the game.
A single by Loney put a runner, DeJesus, right back into scoring position as the tension mounted. Wil Myers made sure it wouldn't last long as he smacked a line drive towards center field. Jones came in on it as it seemed to slice, just slightly, to right-center. The Orioles Gold Glove center fielder made a valiant effort but the ball hit just off the end of his glove and hit the ground. DeJesus scored to give the Rays a 2-1 lead. Gausman ended the threat by getting Matt Joyce to ground out.
The next real spark of offense came in the top of the seventh. Yes, both teams were offensively deficient for most of this ball game. Nick Hundley led off the inning with a line drive that looked like it was destined for the left field bleachers. It ended up smacking off of the yellow line at the top of the outfield fence. In some stadiums, that yellow line means "home run". Tampa Bay is not one of those parks. Hundley ended up at first base on the longest single you may ever see.
The inning ended in disappointment as the next three hitters; Flaherty, Schoop and Markakis, all struck out. As a unit, the Baltimore offense was the victim of 13 strike threes this afternoon. Tampa Bay's pitching just does something to the Oriole bats.
But all was not lost. In the eighth inning, the O's gave it one more go. As many good innings begin, Steve Pearce worked a walk. he was lifted in favor of Quinten Berry. The speedy Berry proved to be a distraction to Tampa pitcher Jake McGee. The lefty had several pick off attempts until one went awry. He threw the ball over the head of first baseman Loney, allowing Berry to advance to second base. Nelson Cruz cashed in on the opportunity with a single to center field, scoring Berry and tying the game at two-apiece.
Davis followed with a single and Cruz was pinch run for by David Lough. A few pitches later, Young hit a scorcher to Longoria at third, who caught Lough a little too far off second base and nabbed him for a double play to end the inning.
A combination of Brian Matusz and Brad Brach worked a clean bottom of the eighth for Baltimore. Tampa used Brad Boxberger to do the same in the top of the ninth. But the bottom of the ninth...ugh.
It started off poorly right away. Yunel Escobar sent a sharply hit ground ball to Flaherty at shortstop. He attempted to back-hand the ball. It bounded slightly away from him, but he recovered to make a throw towards first base. The ball bounced once before reaching Davis, who was unable to come up with the scoop. The error was charged to Flaherty.
Kevin Kiermaier bunted to advance Escobar to second base. Curt Casali put a deep fly ball into center field. Jones made the catch but Escobar was able to advance to third base. Following an intentional walk to Zobrist to load the bases, Brach was replaced by Andrew Miller.
Ryan Hanigan pinch-hit for the left-handed swinging DeJesus. Zobrsit took second base on the first pitch from Miller on "defensive indifference". On the second pitch, a fastball, just outside, the ball slipped past the catcher, Hundley, and went to the back stop. Escobar easily scored from third base for an unorthodox walkoff win for the Rays, 3-2.
The Orioles offense has fallen asleep in Tampa Bay. They were unable to back the efforts of Gausman, who is coming close to pitching himself into the postseason rotation. One can make the argument that he is fifth best starter on the roster right now. But that doesn't matter as much as Buck liking you a whole bunch. We have learned that with Flaherty and, I don't about you, but I like the Gaus Boss a whole lot more than the Flahrt.
It will be Bud Norris' job to stop the bleeding tomorrow and avoid the sweep. He is going to match up against Jeremy Hellickson in the final game against the Rays in 2014. First pitch is scheduled for 1:40 p.m.