This one felt good even if it didn't start off that way. The Orioles were stymied by Rays hopeful-ace Matt Moore through seven innings. Against him they managed only two hits: a double by Nolan Reimold in the top of the 4th and an opposite-field single by Jonathan Schoop in the 5th. Neither hit resulted in a run. Meanwhile, they were busy striking out nine times and not walking at all. This, against a pitcher who has struggled so far this year in his return from Tommy John surgery. Since July, Moore has recorded an ugly 8.42 ERA and a still-ugly 6.39 FIP. He has never been a strikeout pitcher, but this year he is walking a lot of batters while also giving up long balls like they're going out of style. Perhaps he is still recovering. Even so, it was disappointing to see the Orioles hitters do so little against him.
His counterpart Chris Tillman was having similarly good results even if the underlying indicators were worse. In what has become commonplace for him, Tillman struck out four and walked three while also giving up a home run. Luckily the dinger was a solo shot by John Jaso. It was a ground-rule one at that, hitting off the high catwalk that rings the Tropicana Field dome and not coming down. Right fielder Dariel Alvarez looked confused when he camped under the ball only to see it disappear, but that's just what happens at the Trop.
Thus the score was 1-0 heading into the bottom of the 6th inning when things got a bit silly. Evan Longoria struck out, and Logan Forsythe popped out to first base. James Loney then hit a ringing double against the shift into left field, and Steven Souza walked to push him into scoring position. On the first pitch to shortstop Tim Beckham, Matt Wieters attempted to pick Souza off at first base. He would've nailed him, but he threw the ball into the runner and it bounced away from Steve Pearce. Loney was able to take third on the play. This proved crucial a few pitches later when Beckham chopped an infield single back through the box. Tillman threw out his glove hand to attempt a catch but succeeded only in deadening the ball so it rolled towards shortstop. Loney watched this happen and raced home to make it 2-0 Rays.
That was it for Tillman, as Buck brought in Matusz to play LOOGY to the next batter, Kevin Kiermaier. Matusz did his job, getting a nice ground ball to first base, but Pearce was too far off the bag and basically fell down trying to beat Kiermaier, who is a fast runner, to it. The runner was safe and Souza was able to race around third and score on a hard slide. That made it 3-0 Rays, and when Moore retired the side in order in the 7th, it looked like that would be the final score.
Enter Alex Colome. The reliever, who has been good this year for the Rays after two so-so years with the team, surrendered a sharp single to Jonathan Schoop leading off the 8th inning. Steve Pearce then lined out hard to Brandon Guyer in left field, and J.J Hardy flailed hopelessly at a curveball in the dirt for strike three.
Buck pinch-hit with Gerardo Parra for Alvarez, and Parra rewarded him with a single that moved Schoop to third base. Fans everywhere had nightmares of Bobby Dickerson's windmill-itis, but this time he prudently threw up the stop sign. Buck then pulled another lever, pinch-hitting with Steve Clevenger for Reimold. If Parra made Buck look smart, Clevenger made him look like a genius, slapping a 1-2 hanging slider into right field for a single. Schoop scored and it was 3-1 Rays. Buck pulled a third lever, and Ryan Flaherty went in to pinch run for Clevenger.
Manny Machado was up next, and I was prepared for an overaggressive flailing strikeout, capped by a slammed bat and a flung helmet, to end the inning. But the kid surprised me by staying with a 1-2 pitch and getting a single of his own into left field. It may have helped that the Rays outfield, conscious of Manny's power, were playing a no-doubles defense. Well, that worked, in that Manny didn't get a double. But the Rays didn't get an out either, and Parra scored to make it 3-2.
Chris Davis was up next and swung for the downs, as they say, on the very first pitch. Of course he missed. But then Colome missed, as in, missed the catcher, with a wild pitch, and the two baserunners advanced. Colome threw a low fastball that missed, and with first base open, manager Kevin Cash elected to walk Davis to load the bases and face Adam Jones instead.
Colome's first pitch to Jones was a high fastball. Jones offered at it, but thought better of it a split-second later and checked his swing. Fortunately for Orioles fans, his bat still had enough momentum to make solid contact and dump the ball into right field for a single. Flaherty and Machado scored to give the Orioles a 4-3 lead. Will wonders never cease? Matt Wieters stood in next to try and drive in more runs, but he instead struck out (which gave him a golden sombrero for the evening).
That was all the excitement in the game. Brad Brach worked an effective bottom half, giving up only a walk to Souza, and the Orioles went down 1-2-3 in the top of the 9th. In the bottom half, regular closer Zach Britton sat in favor of Darren O'Day, who had a 1-2-3 inning of his own. Ballgame.
With the win, the Orioles inched closer towards .500 at 72-74. Meanwhile, the Rays drop to 70-76. Tomorrow night is game two of the series, with Tyler Wilson scheduled to oppose Drew Smyly.