It took nearly four-and-a-half hours and 13 innings, but the Orioles finally snapped their 15-game losing streak to the Rays, topping their division rivals 8-6 at Camden Yards on Friday night.
This game seemed to be on the verge of a conclusion four or five different times, most often in Tampa’s favor. But the O’s bullpen held it together, and the offense kept fighting to secure the win and get the St. Petersburg-sized monkey off their back.
OK, let’s go through it all.
Tyler Wells almost made it two full turns through the Tampa order without issue, but it wasn’t to be. Through the first four innings, the Orioles starter had yet to allow a hit. The lone baserunner against him was a Wander Franco walk. But a mini-meltdown in the fifth inning took his outing from great to grim.
A single from Randy Arozarena and accompanying throwing error by Jorge Mateo instantly put a runner in a scoring position. After a strikeout, Isaac Paredes worked a walk ahead of Mike Zunino, who jumped on an elevated fastball and smacked it off of the left field foul pole to give the Rays a 3-0 lead out of nowhere.
Anyway, what were you saying about the wall being higher? pic.twitter.com/IXfQg3DvdS— Tampa Bay Rays (@RaysBaseball) May 21, 2022
Wells was lifted one batter later with a final line that feels a bit unfair: 4.2 innings, two hits, three runs (three earned), two walks, four strikeouts, and one home run. The righty has gone beyond five innings just once in eight starts.
For the longest time it didn’t seem like it would matter much as the Orioles offense had, once again, fallen asleep. They didn’t get a runner past first base until the fifth inning, when Chris Owings doubled into left field. But that threat was eventually snuffed out when Owings was nabbed at home plate trying to score on a Cedric Mullins base hit.
Pretty sure this ball's return flight was faster pic.twitter.com/cat8WNOyK9— Tampa Bay Rays (@RaysBaseball) May 21, 2022
It took a wacky seventh inning to get the Birds on the board. Tyler Nevin led off with a double. Ramón Urías followed with a single to put runners on the corners. With Robinson Chirinos at the plate, Nevin scored when Brooks Raley uncorked a wild pitch. It was a close play with Nevin making an awkward slide that actually seemed to slow him down. Nevertheless, they narrowed the deficit by one run.
Chirinos put the next pitch into play, lofting a fly ball into deep left field. Arozarena got to it, but appeared to slightly overrun the ball, causing it to bounce off his glove. Urías scored, and Chirinos cruised into second base. A few batters and a new pitcher (J.P. Feyereisen) later, it was Trey Mancini that tied things up when he singled off the reliever to plate Chirinos.
No more runs came in the regularly scheduled nine innings. The O’s bullpen had done a nice job to keep things tied. Logan Gillaspie tossed 1.2 scoreless innings in relief of Wells. Keegan Akin followed that up with 2.1 tidy innings of his own. That sent us to extras, where the Manfred runner remains in effect.
Tampa took advantage. A double from Brett Phillips scored the Manfred runner (Taylor Walls in this case), and then a flare single from Yandy Diaz knocked in Phillips to put the visitors up 5-3.
The O’s fought right back, and actually appeared in position to win the whole thing. Walks to Austin Hays and Mancini loaded the bases for Anthony Santander, who laced a liner into right field to score Mullins and Hays. Plus, it moved the winning run to third base with no outs. But that is as close as it would get.
Ryan McKenna, who pinch ran for Mancini, didn’t have his best moment on the bases. He stayed put on a grounder to Walls that would have been tough to relay home. And then he broke for the plate on a groundball to Franco that was quickly corralled and fired home to squash the rally. It’s not always easy to determine whether or not to run in those situations, but McKenna made the wrong decision twice in quick succession.
The Rays kept the pressure on during their turn in the 11th. Arozarena singled on a ball up the middle to put runners on the corners with one out. Kiermaier followed with a line drive single to score Vidal Brujan (Manfred runner). Cionel Pérez stopped things there, retiring the next two batters to keep the O’s within striking distance.
The Orioles were feeling fiesty. They put together a two-out rally in the bottom of the 11th after the pinch hitting pair of Rougned Odor and Anthony Bemboom came up empty. Mullins was walked intentionally, and then Hays blooped a single into shallow left field to tie things up. But they would get no more as McKenna grounded out, and we headed to a 12th inning.
That brought us the big league debut of left-hander Nick Vespi, and it was pretty darn impressive. The southpaw struck out Phillips, and induced a couple of weak groundballs, not to mention some awkward swings on his cutter and slider offerings, on just 10 pitches. He returned to the mound the following inning and racked up two more strikeouts before a Kiermaier single made for some drama. Franco scampered towards the plate, where he was met by a Hays throw. Initially, he was ruled safe, but a speedy review overturned the call to maintain the deadlock.
That set the stage for Odor, who stepped to the plate with one out and Nevin standing on third base. The Orioles second baseman absolutely walloped a Ralph Garza pitch deep into the Baltimore night and onto the right field flag pole to give the Orioles their second straight walk-off home run, beating the Rays 8-6.
This was a fun (albeit long) night at the ballpark. The team showed some heart, the Vespi debut was eye-opening, and there is something special about this group. They aren’t going to challenge for a playoff spot, but they do so many things that keep games worth watching.
These two teams will look to play a slightly speedier game on Saturday. Kyle Bradish will face-off against Jeffrey Springs. First pitch is 7:05.
Who was the Most Birdland Player for May 20, 2022?
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Nick Vespi ( MLB debut, W, 2 IP, 3 SO
Rougned Odor (walk-off dong)
Austin Hays (outfield assist, game-tying RBI)