With a five-run lead and one of the best pitchers in the American League on the mound, one would assume the leading team stands a good shot at finishing the job. Most teams? Sure. But not this team. Not tonight.
The Orioles wasted a five-run advantage and a quality start by John Means to fall 9-7 against the Rays. The result guaranteed another series loss for Baltimore, and brought the team’s record to a pitiful 6-17 record at Camden Yards.
Means entered tonight’s game carrying a scoreless-inning streak that dated back to his no-hitter. The lefty picked up where he left off by throwing strikes and getting ahead early in the count. He needed only eight pitches to complete the first inning and just five more to retire the side in the second.
Means pitched to contact early on, but decided to switch things up in the third. He allowed his first hit of the game, but struck out the side to notch his first three K’s. Means escaped the fourth inning without any drama, but finally faltered in the fifth.
Mike Zunino worked a one-out walk, but Kevin Kiermaier flew out to center for the second out. Means came within a strike of ending the inning, but Mike Brosseau laced a 3-2 pitch into the stands to put the Rays on the board. The blast marked Brosseau’s fourth career home run off Means.
Means continued to struggle with his control and Tampa made him pay. He missed the target with a 1-2 fastball and Randy Arozarena blasted an absolute no doubter to left field. The back-to-back jacks trimmed the lead to two, and immediately shifted the momentum.
To his credit, Means bounced back. After taking a line drive off his back in the fifth, he recorded the final out and worked a clean sixth. Means struckout Zunino to start the seventh, but allowed a one-out double to Kiermaier.
Kiermaier lifted a ball that Cedric Mullins gathered while shifting to his right. Mullins fired the ball on the mark to second base, but the ball bounced twice and arrived just after a sliding Kiermaier. This is the type of play that comes to mind when people ding Mullins for his arm. He has great range in center and rarely makes a mistake, but the arm prevents him from being tabbed a truly elite outfielder.
The knock chased Means from the game with the Orioles holding a 6-3 lead. Brandon Hyde turned to Adam Plutko, while the Rays countered with pinch hitter Ji-Man Choi. Choi immediately reduced the lead to two with a base hit up the middle. Arozarena stepped up and lifted the first pitch he saw into the seats. In the blink of an eye, the game was tied.
Tanner Scott replaced Plutko and retired the Rays, but Paul Fry floundered in the eighth. Fry struck out Zunino and Lowe but also walked the bases loaded. After a mound visit, Choi singled again to provide Tampa the lead. Fry allowed another run on a wild pitch, and Arozarena doubled home the ninth run. Cole Sulser replaced Fry and closed the frame, but the Rays led 9-6.
Baltimore attempted a rally in the ninth. Pinch hitter DJ Stewart worked a walk and Mancini singled to bring the tying run to the plate. Pedro Severino singled to score one, but Maikel Franco grounded into a fielder’s choice to end the game.
The Orioles gained their early lead behind a Herculean effort by Mancini. The presumptive AL Comeback Player of the Year laced a rocket to dead center for the first run of the game.
Freddy Galvis doubled the lead in the second with his 100th career home run. Ryan Mountcastle followed with a single the other way, and Ryan McKenna reached on an error. Cedric Mullins replaced McKenna on a fielder’s choice, and Austin Hays walked to load the bases for Mancini.
Mancini delivered again, this time with a bases-clearing double down the left field line. The knock provided Baltimore a five-run advantage, which felt nearly insurmountable with Means on the mound.
After the Rays trimmed the lead to two, Mancini put the team on his back once again. He lifted a cutter 431 feet for a leadoff solo shot. Mancini finished 4-5 with 5 RBIs and two runs scored.
This loss stings, and that’s all there is to it. On a night where the two best players, and best stories this year, delivered, Baltimore found another way to lose a game at home. The Orioles will try to avoid a sweep tomorrow afternoon. They will face the league’s oldest player in Rich Hill, and I fully expect them to lose.
But hey, another step closer to a better draft pick.