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Late meltdown sends Orioles to 3-1 loss to Rays in first game of doubleheader

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The Orioles offense only had three hits. It’s hard to win when you only have three hits, especially when your bullpen gives up runs late.

MLB: Game One-Tampa Bay Rays at Baltimore Orioles Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Maybe if the Orioles had two more innings in the first game of Thursday’s doubleheader against the Rays, they would have found a way to score more than one run. Under the 2020 rules, they only got seven innings. That was just enough time for the Rays to score three runs. For the Orioles, not so much. They lost the opener, 3-1.

This one slipped away from the Orioles in the top of the seventh. Well-traveled reliever Cesar Valdez entered a 1-1 tie game to try to preserve the tie and give the O’s a chance to walk it off in the bottom of the inning. Valdez had yet to allow any runs in 11.1 innings since joining the Orioles. No one keeps a 0.00 ERA forever. Thursday’s first game, unfortunately for the Orioles, proved to be his time to give up runs.

Valdez walked the leadoff batter, pinch hitter Randy Arozarena. No problem, due up next was #9 hitter Michael Perez. That’s the guy to get out! Instead, Perez doubled and the Rays had men on second and third with no one out.

It’s never an easy situation to get out of with no damage. Valdez got a grounder into the drawn-in infield, but it was softly hit and double-clutched by Pat Valaika, so a run scored. The next batter hit a lazy fly ball to left field for an RBI sacrifice fly. I know, it’s crazy, but it is possible for a team to get multiple runs without actually getting another hit. That sank Valdez and the Orioles.

In the bottom of the seventh, the O’s were at least able to bring the go-ahead run to the plate with two outs after DJ Stewart worked a one out walk and pinch hitter Rio Ruiz collected a two out walk.

It is not surprising that the Orioles lost. They are winless so far this season in games where they have scored three or fewer runs. They only picked up three hits in the game. It’s hard to win when you only have three hits. Of course, the Rays only had four hits and it’s also hard to win with four hits, but they still managed to do it. That’s probably why they’re in first place and the O’s are in fourth.

The first five innings of the game were something of a pitcher’s duel between former Cy Young winner Blake Snell and Orioles pitching prospect Dean Kremer. Kremer battled some command problems as he issued three walks in five innings, but he only gave up three hits to Tampa batters and struck out six.

The only scoring the Rays did against Kremer came in the second inning when light-hitting outfielder Brett Phillips tripled into the right field corner. When you get burned by the other team’s #8 hitter, it’s not ideal. That said, if you only give up a run in five innings of work, you had a nice day. Sure, it’d be nicer if Kremer had not taken 95 pitches to get through five, but the Rays have a tough lineup. He has a 1.69 ERA after three big league starts. I’ll take it.

The O’s just had nothing going against Snell. It felt like he could have easily thrown a seven-inning complete game shutout if he had been given the opportunity. However, thanks to the Rays dogmatic commitment to not having pitchers go through the batting order a third time, Snell was lifted after 5.1 innings even though he’d only thrown 73 pitches. The bottom of the sixth saw Valaika work a leadoff walk before being sacrificed into scoring position by Andrew Velazquez.

Rays manager Kevin Cash summoned reliever Diego Castillo. Valaika advanced again on a groundout. With two outs, Jose Iglesias drew a walk to put men on the corners, though with two outs, it’d take a hit or something weird happening. Enter rookie hitting sensation Ryan Mountcastle, who pulled a line drive into right field to tie the game, at least momentarily. The O’s hopes of getting another run across were quickly snuffed.

If you want some silver lining, Mountcastle had two of the three Orioles hits.

The fun from tying the game up didn’t last long, as Valdez’s bad outing followed right on the heels of the O’s getting themselves back in it. Sometimes you’re the windshield and sometimes you’re the bug.

The Orioles and Rays play another game of the doubleheader after this, which will also have a regulation length of seven innings. Due to an earlier postponement related to the participation in the pro sports racial justice protests interrupting what would have been a Rays home game, this second game will have the Rays act as the home team at Camden Yards. Baltimore’s own Bruce Zimmermann is set to make his MLB debut for the Orioles in the second game.