It’s not how you start, they say. It’s how you finish.
That’s fortunate for the Tampa Bay Rays. And quite unfortunate for the Baltimore Orioles.
One night after allowing a nice early lead to vanish in defeat, the Orioles were at it again Saturday, taking a one-run advantage in the third, only to see their bats go silent and Tampa Bay’s wake up in what became an 12-3 Rays win.
The Orioles went ahead 5-2 on Friday and Saturday’s start wasn’t quite as good, but they still found themselves ahead 3-2 after Cedric Mullins hit a two-run homer to center field in the bottom of the third.
But just like the first game of the series, in which the O’s only scored one run after that point, Baltimore saw the power go out at the plate from there. The Orioles didn’t score another run the rest of the way.
The Rays, unfortunately for Birdland, did.
In another similarity from the night before, it was one-time Orioles bomber Nelson Cruz getting things started. The ageless slugger followed a Brandon Lowe double by cranking an absolute moonshot to center in the fifth, one that turned Mullins into a spectator the moment it left the bat. The damage ended up being a 111 mile-per-hour exit velocity, a 440-foot flight, and a 4-3 lead for the Rays.
Tampa Bay kept it up against Spenser Watkins, who looked good in spots but like the rest of the Baltimore staff couldn’t keep the Rays off the board. Joey Wendle reached on an infield single in the sixth, and Brett Phillips hit a hard grounder to first that took a bad hop over Trey Mancini’s shoulder and went for a run-scoring double.
The roof caved in in the eighth, and it was Cesar Valdez’s turn to get lit up. Wendle singled to lead off, and Manuel Margot hit a grounder to second that turned into an error when Jorge Mateo tried to shovel the ball to second and instead tossed it wildly. After a strikeout, Mike Zunino singled, and Lowe hit a tailing opposite-field fly ball to left that hit off the pole for a grand slam, making it 9-3 and giving people writing up game recaps for Camden Chat the green light to start their stories.
It didn’t get any prettier. Wander Franco homered to right later in the inning, and the Rays scored two more in the ninth off of Isaac Mattson on a bases-loaded walk and a wild pitch.
The way the game went for its first few innings, there was no indication we were in for such a one-sided affair. Tampa Bay jumped ahead 2-0 in the second on a Yandy Diaz home run and Kevin Kiermaier groundout, but Baltimore responded in the third. Mateo hit a one-out double into the right-field corner, and he scored when he stole third and was able to jog home easily when Zunino’s throw went into the outfield.
Richie Martin then drew a walk, and Mullins turned on a Shane McClanahan pitch and drilled it over the right-center field fence for a 402-foot, two-run home run. The blast extended Mullins’s hitting streak to 15 games.
There was more offense to come - unfortunately, nearly all of it came from the wrong side.
Until the Cruz blast, Watkins looked like he was on his way to a strong start. He finished with four earned runs in six innings of work, however, and allowed eight hits. He struck out four, but the five runs total the Rays scored off of him proved to be too much to overcome.
Dusten Knight also had a good outing in relief for the Orioles, striking out four in 1.1 innings, but was on the hook for a run when he allowed the first two batters of the eighth inning to reach.
Overall, not a good night. Sunday’s another day, but if the Orioles find themselves with a lead again, they can bet that the Rays won’t be letting that victory go without making Baltimore work for it.