The Orioles face what feels like a gargantuan task to ascend the AL East standings. That may be true, but when it comes down to any given game, the only thing to worry about is winning that one game. Win the one in front of you and move on to the next one. Do that enough times and maybe you'll get somewhere. The Orioles took the rubber game of their series against the Rays, 5-2, pulling back into third place in the division, though they still face a seven game deficit to the leading Yankees.
In their ice cold hitting month of July, it's seemed like every hard-hit ball has gone right to a fielder, every bad bounce play has ended up working against the Orioles hitters. There's some bad luck there, even if it feels like more than luck as the events pile up. Sunday's game finally brought the Orioles some fluke hits in their favor, and as it turned out, those were crucial in scoring runs.
It was the Orioles who got on board first, grabbing three runs in the first inning. They were helped along to a two-out rally by Adam Jones reaching on an excuse-me swing that ended up with a ground ball into no man's land. That put Chris Davis, who walked earlier, into scoring position. Oh, no! Now they were in trouble. Except not, because J.J. Hardy smoked a grounder between third and short. The ball slowed down enough on the carpet that Davis could score. A hit with RISP! Amazing!
Multiple Orioles hits with RISP are, in fact, allowed
The next trick was pulled off by Nolan Reimold, whose two-run double gave the Orioles *gasp* back-to-back hits with runners in scoring position. With two outs, even! Yes, that's really allowed, and it gave the Orioles a 3-0 lead against Matt Moore before the Rays had even come up to bat.
As it turned out, the Orioles would not get another hit with RISP in the game. They only had three more chances after the first inning. That still isn't great, but as we know, it can be a lot worse.
In the fourth inning, Jonathan Schoop almost perfectly replicated Jones' first inning grounder, nubbing a ball against the shift towards where a second baseman would normally stand. You gotta take runners any way you can get them right now. And the O's were able to capitalize as Moore badly missed a spot against Caleb Joseph, with the result being a screaming line drive out to left field for Joseph's seventh home run of the season. The O's led 5-0 after their half of the fourth inning.
O's starter Wei-Yin Chen retired the first 11 Rays batters he faced before starting to run into some difficulty. Specifically, the difficulty was that he gave up a home run to Evan Longoria on an 0-2 count, and the very next batter, Logan Forsythe, took him deep to almost the same spot on the first pitch. Joey Butler took the very next pitch for a double to deep right. One fly ball to left field later and the inning was over. Probably only David Lough could have run down the ball, so it was a good thing he was in the field today, if not a good thing he was leading off.
Chen has now allowed 19 home runs this season, and I believe all but three of them have been solo home runs.
Chen had some more problems in the fifth inning, though he wasn't helped by Reimold overrunning a Tim Beckham fly ball to turn an out into a double to start things off. The Rays ended up turning that into a bases loaded with one out situation, though Chen escaped the jam.
When good enough is good enough
Two Rays hits in the first three batters to start the sixth inning meant the tying run was at the plate with one out. At this point, manager Buck Showalter had seen enough of Chen, so he summoned Tommy Hunter. 'twas nary a lefty batter in sight, yet Hunter still unloaded a wild pitch before walking Beckham. Luckily for Hunter, his catcher is Caleb Joseph, and on the wild pitch Joseph cut down a runner trying to scoot up to second base. Bad idea, dog. One harmless grounder to Manny Machado later and that was that for the Rays rally.
The day's line on Chen ended up with two runs on six hits and a walk in 5.1 innings of work. He struck out three batters. Not a great day, but a day that ended up being good enough.
I haven't mentioned the Orioles hitters for a while because after the Joseph home run, they only got another four hits all game, one of which was erased on a double play and the other resulted in a TOOTBLAN at the plate, with Reimold running through a rare Bobby Dickerson stop sign. Reimold had three hits in the game, which is good, but also had the bad play on defense and that TOOTBLAN.
This is not the way to behave when Dan Duquette gazes down from his tower with the Eye of Judgement, Nolan.
Fortunately, the lack of further scoring opportunities didn't matter too much because Brad Brach, Darren O'Day, and Zach Britton are all cool dudes who tend to keep the other team from scoring. Each turned in a scoreless inning in this game, with the Rays never advancing a runner past first base against any one of them.
They've got a long way still to go, but they didn't fall any farther behind today. That's something.
The Orioles return to Camden Yards on Monday to start a three game series against the Braves. Alex Wood and Kevin Gausman are the scheduled starters for the series opener, which is at the standard civilized baseball time of 7:05pm.