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Stevie Wilkerson saves the day as Orioles beat Rays in day game of DH, 2-1

The patchwork Orioles pitching staff put together a solid game and it turned out to be just enough to win.

MLB: Game One-Tampa Bay Rays at Baltimore Orioles Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The Orioles were well on their way to another stupid 2019 season loss when instead something awesome happened. With one seventh-inning swing, Stevie Wilkerson, fresh off last night’s emergency relief pitching effort, turned a lifeless 1-0 deficit into a fun 2-1 lead. The bullpen held on for two innings and just like that, the O’s took the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader against the Rays.

That the O’s managed to win this one is all the more remarkable given the likely necessity of a patchwork pitching staff available for the game. Newly-claimed Aaron Brooks, a 29-year-old righty who arrived from Oakland, was set to “start” but had a ceiling of about three innings due to not being stretched out, and Friday’s blowout loss burned up long man Gabriel Ynoa. Everything was in place for another lopsided defeat.

Instead, the Orioles cobbled together a great pitching effort from some players who’ve disappointed at times this year. Brooks got things started on the right foot by retiring the first eight batters of the game. Since he hadn’t started a game since April, manager Brandon Hyde chose not to push Brooks any farther, turning to Jimmy Yacabonis for some long relief.

The first batter Yacabonis faced, Rays #9 hitter Mike Zunino, blasted a home run into the Orioles bullpen to put the O’s in a 1-0 hole. This was a familiar feeling for O’s fans watching this pitching staff: “Come on, you gave up a home run to THAT guy?” Indeed, Zunino entered the game with a sad .182/.236/.324 batting average, but in six games against the O’s was batting over .300 and slugging over .500. Sheesh.

Yacabonis allowed singles to the next two hitters he faced. This too is a familiar feeling. The Orioles turn to some guy in desperation, hoping he can eat innings, and he mostly just sucks. To Yacabonis’s credit, he flipped the script after this early struggle, ending the third inning with a groundout to keep the O’s trailing by just the one run. From there, he went on to pitch 3.1 innings where he allowed only a walk.

While this was going on, the O’s hitters were having another one of their bad games. Rays two-way prospect Brendan McKay had them mostly shut down over five innings, allowing just three scattered singles. McKay had an eye-popping 20 swinging strikes in his 86 pitches against the O’s, leading to seven strikeouts.

The O’s had only one real scoring chance against McKay. That came in the fifth inning, when Jonathan Villar and Anthony Santander had back-to-back singles that set up a men on first/third with no one out situation. The tying run was 90 feet away. A hit could have tied it. A sac fly could have tied it. Instead, strikeout machine Keon Broxton struck out yet again, as did Wilkerson behind him, and after Santander stole second, Richie Martin grounded out to end the threat.

A sixth inning rally came together with two outs against Rays reliever Andrew Kittredge, with Renato Nunez and Pedro Severino picking up consecutive singles. The Rays changed pitchers and Colin Poche struck out Villar for the third out.

Right after the hitters blew this scoring chance, O’s reliever Shawn Armstrong started the seventh inning by issuing two walks. This had that 2019 flavor of stupid about it because the second of these batters, second baseman Michael Brosseau, tried and failed to bunt at the first pitch.

The very next pitch soared high and outside and Severino couldn’t get a glove on it, so the runner, Nate Lowe, advanced on the passed ball without even needing the bunt. As MASN’s Gary Thorne frequently remarks after moments like these, you could practically see the steam coming out of Hyde’s ears. Armstrong walked Brosseau after a 10-pitch plate appearance. This was enough for Armstrong to get the hook.

Enter Richard Bleier for his “The line must be drawn here!” moment like Captain Jean-Luc Picard against the Borg in Star Trek: First Contact. A lineout and two groundouts later and the O’s were still in the ballgame, though they still trailed 1-0. The stage was set for someone to pull off some heroics. They just had to, you know, pull it off.

Santander opened the bottom of the seventh inning with a single off Poche. Wilkerson drove him in with the go-ahead home run, his eighth homer of the season.

There have been games this year where the bullpen was a complete disaster. Mychal Givens specifically has blown leads in disastrous fashion. After Bleier walked the leadoff man in the top of the eighth, the one-run lead remained tenuous. Givens got a quick 3-6 double play to erase the runner, then retired the next four batters after that with little fanfare to pick up his seventh save.

The Orioles are so bad sometimes that you can almost forget that they are capable of winning games like this. They’re the worst team in MLB, but despite all the morose feelings they inspire in fans and lazy jokes they inspire from pundits, they are still an MLB team. They can beat a good team who’s having a top prospect pitch, even on a day where the top prospect pitches well, the O’s own batters are poor, and their own pitching staff is a motley crew that can’t even play “Dr. Feelgood” for you.

The two teams will be back in action for a second game on Saturday evening starting at 7:05. O’s All-Star John Means is scheduled to start against Rays pitcher Charlie Morton. The first 30,000 fans in attendance will receive the third incarnation of the Birdland Hawaiian shirt. If you want to chat during the game, join back in our doubleheader game thread. Until then, aloha.


Who was the Most Birdland Player for the day game on July 13?

This poll is closed

  • 72%
    Stevie Wilkerson (go-ahead home run)
    (109 votes)
  • 16%
    Aaron Brooks (eight up, eight down in O’s debut)
    (24 votes)
  • 2%
    Jimmy Yacabonis (held the line in long relief)
    (3 votes)
  • 9%
    Mychal Givens (faced five batters, got six outs)
    (14 votes)
150 votes total Vote Now