BALTIMORE -- Sometimes you can only sit back and think, "How the hell did they win that game?" That was the kind of game that the Orioles played on Friday night. They had no business winning it, managing only five hits all game, without a hit with runners in scoring position until J.J. Hardy delivered the game winner with two outs in the ninth inning.
Then again, neither did the Rays have any business winning they game. They only got six hits all game, none of which came with runners in scoring position. Steven Souza Jr. hit a home run in the second inning and then the Rays did not score again for the rest of the game. They ended up losing, 2-1, and they'll probably be wondering how they lost.
One reason the Rays lost is because they managed to blow a bases loaded, nobody out situation in the top of the ninth inning of a tie game. Darren O'Day, the normally stalwart reliever, gave up back-to-back singles to get the inning started, and after a pitch to Logan Forsythe got out of control and struck him, the pond was full of ducks. It was hard to see any way out of that.
O'Day found a way. As a sold out Camden Yards crowd of 45,505 rallied to his corner, O'Day sent Souza down swinging, followed by Asdrubal Cabrera. It was a moment fraught with peril. There were three balls and two strikes. There was nowhere to put Cabrera. He put himself back in the dugout. Next, Jake Elmore took his shot. Elmore actually put a ball in play, a soft grounder that got to Manny Machado with just enough time to spare for Machado to step on third base before David DeJesus could slide in and a run could safely cross the plate.
Gonzalez's dominance almost for nothing
For a while there, it looked like the Orioles were going to waste a strong effort from Gonzalez. He only made one real mistake all game, the home run he gave up to Souza. That was in eight innings pitched. Gonzalez only gave up three hits in the time he was pitching, walked none, and struck out six. That is getting pretty close to domination. Gonzalez did also hit two batters, which may come back on the Orioles as the series continues.
However, when Gonzalez left the game, the score was tied, 1-1. He was lucky not to leave behind, because Orioles hitters had almost nothing going on against Rays starter Nate Karns, either. The O's didn't get their first hit of the game until Travis Snider led off the fourth inning with an opposite field single. That was actually the only hit that O's hitters managed to get against Karns, who mostly cruised through six innings of work. Four of the six innings went 1-2-3.
It was a stroke of good fortune for the O's that Karns was removed from the game before the start of the seventh inning. He'd only thrown 87 pitches and probably had another inning in the tank, but it seemed that Rays manager Kevin Cash preferred to go to a reliever rather than have his starter go through the Orioles lineup a third time through.
In general, that may not be a bad strategy to employ. Getting six innings from your starter isn't a bad night, and the Rays have a number of strong arms in their bullpen who've gotten great results so far this year. It did not work out on this Friday night.
The Rays go to the 'pen early
The first man up for the Rays bullpen was Kevin Jepsen, a right-handed pitcher. Any handed pitcher is a good pitcher to face Chris Davis this year, although Davis has been running hot, with three home runs already in this homestand. Jepsen thought he had a great plan for facing Davis, and maybe he did have a great plan. He also made a mistake, and even when Davis is not having a good year, he can do bad, bad things to baseballs that arrive at a certain place by mistake.
That's exactly what Davis did in the seventh inning, crushing a Jepsen pitch onto the flag court, which was packed full of standing room only fans. The crowd, predictably, went wild as Davis rounded the bases. The Orioles had tied the game, and just in time, because they've yet to win a game this year where they trailed after seven innings.
After the nerve-wracking top of the ninth where O'Day managed to hold the line even after spotting the Rays the bases loaded, the Orioles came to the plate in the bottom of the inning with a chance to win the game. The heart of the order was due up. That's the way you want it to work out.
Drama in the bottom of the ninth
Things looked even brighter when Snider hit a grounder to the shifted shortstop Cabrera, who wasn't able to make a bare-handed play on the slow roller. The winning run was on base with a single and there was no one out. The no one out quickly changed as Jimmy Paredes struck out on three pitches. The next with a chance for heroics was Adam Jones. Would he be Birdland's hero?
Well, no, although he put a charge into a ball to center field, but the line drive held up long enough to be caught. That brought up Davis and necessitated a pitching change: Cash went to a lefty, Xavier Cedeno, while the O's sent in a pinch runner for Snider. Davis wasted no time, swinging at the first pitch he saw. One way to beat the shift is to hit the ball over the first baseman's head down the right field line. The winning run reached third on the Davis single, just 90 feet away, although there were two men out.
The LOOGY having ended up being a NOOGY (No Out Guy), Cash went for a righty reliever, Steve Geltz, to face Hardy, who was hitless in three at-bats heading into the ninth. That only means he was due. Due is due.
After taking one ball, Hardy hit a Robert Andino-to-Carl Crawford special. The ball fell in front of Rays right fielder Souza, who never even bothered to pick it up. The winning run scored and the Rays walked off the field as losers. The Orioles, on the other hand, raced out of the dugout to celebrate the dramatic win. They're now tied for second place in the division with these Rays, 1.5 games back, pending the result of the Yankees on the west coast.
This win was Showalter's 400th in an Orioles uniform. He ranks fourth on the franchise list, seven wins behind Hank Bauer.
The teams will continue this series on Saturday afternoon with a scheduled 4:05 start time. The probable starting pitchers are Wei-Yin Chen for the O's and Erasmo Ramirez for the Rays. The O's haven't won three games all month, but if they win tomorrow and keep their chances for a sweep alive, maybe they'll sneak one in at the wire.