The 2021 season was marked by a whole lot of games where the Orioles got blown out by the Rays while reliever after reliever was lit up in late innings. The O’s decided to try out something new for Opening Day in 2022, instead losing a close, 2-1 game to the Rays where they had some chances and blew them while the Rays were able to capitalize. There is no partial credit for a close loss. The Orioles are the same 0-1 as they would be if they’d lost 11-1.
With John Means only able to pitch four innings due to an elevated pitch count and the short spring training keeping him from building up his stamina, the bullpen was always going to be leaned on heavily. They passed the test until the eighth inning, when the Rays filled the bases and got the contact they needed to get a run in to break a tie.
The inning started with Dillon Tate on the mound for the O’s. Tate had cleared the seventh inning in just seven pitches, so he was left in to face Rays sensation Wander Franco. The 21-year-old budding phenom hit a single, after which manager Brandon Hyde chose to summon Jorge López. The López story last year was one where he washed out as a starter due to an inability to not suck in the fifth inning. His small sample size as a reliever went better, so here he is: Tie game in the eighth with a man on base guy.
Did it go well? Not particularly, no. It also could have gone worse. López had an eight-pitch battle against pinch-hitter Ji-Man Choi that ended in a walk. The bases were soon loaded as Randy Arozarena found a new way to beat the Orioles after hitting eight home runs against them last year. Arozarena beat out an infield single that came off his bat slower than 50mph, loading the bases with still no one out. We got trouble my friends, right here in River City.
Tampa’s Brandon Lowe followed, grounding a ball right into the drawn-in infield, netting a force at home plate. The bases were still loaded for Francisco Mejía. He did not need a hit to bring the go-ahead run to the plate. All it took was a deep fly ball to center fielder Cedric Mullins. Mullins did not even try to throw home even with a slow runner, Choi, on third. The run scored.
After walking Josh Lowe (pronounced differently than Brandon Lowe; it rhymes with “how”), López got the hook from Hyde. Paul Fry came in to close the barn door after the escape of the horses and successfully did so.
In the ninth, new Oriole Rougned Odor had a two-out, pinch-hit single to the opposite field, turning the O’s lineup over to Mullins. Rays manager Kevin Cash brought in a lefty, Brooks Raley, who struck out Mullins to seal the Opening Day loss for the Birds. Oh well.
The Orioles had their chances in the game. They just did nothing with them, leaving eight men on base while going 0-7 with runners in scoring position. Their chances started in the top of the first inning, with Mullins’s season beginning with a first pitch hit by pitch. It did not take long for Ryan Mountcastle to join Mullins on base with a single. Two on, none out. Promising, right? Yes, but promise only goes so far.
Trey Mancini grounded into a lucky-it-wasn’t-a-double-play forceout. The next batter, Austin Hays, tried to move things back towards a rally by working a walk to load the bases. Note again that this is how the Rays beat the Orioles: They loaded the bases with one out and scored the run without a hit. The Orioles... did not do this. Only after Anthony Santander struck out for the second out did they get a deep fly ball from Ramón Urías.
The Rays got their first run the same way they got their second run: A sacrifice fly after the bases were loaded. Against Means in the third, the Rays top of the lineup came up for the second time and they were dialed in, with three out of four batters ripping hard shots for singles to load the bases. Means did well to limit the damage, holding Brandon Lowe to a sacrifice fly that scored the first Rays run. He followed with a strikeout of Mike Zunino.
For the day, Means gave up just the one run, though it took him 84 pitches to get through four innings. He mostly scattered six hits and a walk. We’ll be hoping for better as the season goes along and he’s rounded more into midseason form.
The Orioles, for their part, also made sure that Rays starter Shane McClanahan - a Baltimore-born guy making the Opening Day start against the O’s - was out fairly early. The Rays lifted him after 4.1 innings and 62 pitches. This was a promising development. That first inning notwithstanding, the O’s mostly sucked against McClanahan. He struck out seven batters, including four in a row when the O’s 1-4 hitters batted for a second time.
The lone Orioles run came in the sixth inning, with Santander blasting an absolutely titanic dinger to deep center field. That came off of Rays reliever Matt Wisler. That’s where the score stayed, 1-1, until the decisive run came across in the eighth.
Loss though it was, there were positives sprinkled here and there. Relievers Bryan Baker and Cionel Pérez made their O’s debuts with a scoreless inning each. Chirinos, although he was a zero as a batter, got several strikes with his pitch framing ability that last year’s catchers were simply incapable of framing, and saved at least one run blocking a pitch that probably would have been a wild pitch with Pedro Severino back there.
The teams will be back at it tomorrow afternoon, with a 1:10 scheduled first pitch for Saturday. Jordan Lyles will make his Orioles debut in starting the game, with Drew Rasmussen pitching for the Rays. The Orioles will once again have a chance to equal their 2021 win total against this Tampa team.