Orioles ace John Means didn’t have his best stuff tonight against the Rays. In fact, he didn’t have a single clean inning in the game. But somehow, he made it work. The left-hander fought his way through five innings and gave his team a chance to win.
Baltimore’s offense showed up too, with a mix of power and clutch hitting to post a handful of runs on the board. But the Rays are a really good baseball team, and that showed through despite a strong effort by the Orioles.
The evening started with Means getting into and out of a jam in the first. Rays left fielder Jordan Luplow, recalled hours before first pitch because of Randy Arozarena’s placement on the COVID-19 injured list, led the game off with a double. What didn’t help was a bobbled ground ball by Maikel Franco that put runners on the corners with one out. But Means induced a flyout and a ground out to end the frame without any damage.
Cedric Mullins started the home half of the first with an opposite-field single and got in scoring position after a great jump off of Ryan Yarbrough. It was Mullins’ 21st stolen base of the year. Ryan Mountcastle looped an RBI single into shallow left field and it was 1-0, Orioles. Mountcastle was then caught stealing — with a hard tag to the head by Wander Franco — to end the inning. The O’s rookie got up slowly and was shaking off the cobwebs as the Rays jogged off the field.
Tampa got their leadoff hitter on base again in the second, this time with a bunt single to third by Manuel Margot. Two batters later, Mike Zunino doubled, and an Orioles fielding gaffe led to two runs for the Rays. On a soft grounder between first base and the pitcher’s mound, Mountcastle fielded the ball and threw to Means covering first. But the ball flew into foul territory for an error charged to the pitcher, allowing Margot and Zunino to cross the plate. 2-1, Rays.
It didn’t take long for the Orioles to respond. The next inning, Pedro Severino helped his batterymate with a solo home run to right-center. And the Birds took the lead with back-to-back doubles by Franco and Richie Martin. 3-2, O’s.
When the Orioles took the field for the top of the third, Mountcastle did not join his teammates. Franco was shifted across the diamond to first base and recently claimed Jorge Mateo took over at third.
Like the previous two innings, the Rays got a couple of runners on base. One reached via base hit and the other on a throwing error by Richie Martin. But Means was able to escape the inning without any runners crossing the plate.
The O’s added another long ball in the bottom of the third, courtesy of Austin Hays. 4-2, Orioles. The solo shot was Hays’ 12th home run of the year.
The first walk of the game — for either team — came in the fifth inning. With Yandy Diaz on third base and two outs, Means walked Margot to bring Ji-Man Choi to the plate. He struck out the Rays’ first baseman to end the inning, pounding his fist in his glove on the way to the dugout. The lefty’s pitch count stood at 94 midway through the game.
After taking a foul ball to a sensitive area, Trey Mancini recovered to smack a double into the left field corner with two outs in the fifth. Then Jorge Mateo showed off his burst with a triple to center that lengthened the Birds’ lead. 5-2, O’s.
Reliever Conner Greene took over for Means in the sixth and the game took a bad turn. The Rays got a couple of runners on base before former Oriole Nelson Cruz hit a three-run home run to tie the game, 5-5.
Ryan Yarbrough’s night ended after five innings of work. He allowed nine hits and five runs while striking out four. Drew Rasmussen was the first Rays’ pitcher out of the bullpen, and he worked around an infield single for a scoreless sixth inning. He also pitched a scoreless seventh and into the eighth.
Cole Sulser had the first clean inning of the night for the Orioles. He entered in the seventh and retired the Rays in order with a flyout sandwiched by two lineouts.
Paul Fry ran into trouble in the eighth, loading the bases on a pop-fly single to right and a pair of walks. Dillon Tate came in to face Nelson Cruz, and the Rays’ slugger lined a rocket off the glove of Mateo at third for a pair of RBI.
And the hits kept on coming. Wander Franco followed with a single up the middle to score two more runs. Then Diaz walked, Franco moved to third on a wild pitch, and Margot laced an RBI single to center.
Baltimore summoned Marcos Diplan in the eighth to make his major league debut and he struck out the first batter he faced. Then Brett Phillips flied out to end the carnage.
The O’s loaded the bases in the bottom of the eighth against Rasmussen on three straight singles. With a prime scoring opportunity, Richie Martin hit a sacrifice fly RBI and Rasmussen was finally removed from the game. His replacement, Andrew Kittredge, retired Mullins and Hays to end the threat.
Rays reliever Louis Head put down the first two batters of the ninth — Mancini and Mateo — before Ramon Urias blooped a single into right field. Anthony Santander made the final on a groundball to first.
In a marathon game that lasted nearly four hours, the end result was a lopsided 10-6 loss. The Orioles looked alright for the first half of the game, but once John Means left, the bullpen couldn’t do anything to control the Rays. Tomorrow can’t come soon enough, because everyone needs to get this game out of their minds as soon as possible.