The third-place Orioles head to Tampa Bay this weekend looking to avenge last week's three-game sweep at the hands of the Rays. Thirteen years ago, the Birds flew south for their first-ever series in St. Petersburg from May 8-10, 1998. The O's took two of three at The Trop that weekend behind their veteran players.
Baltimore batted around and scored five runs in the seventh inning of the series opener to break open a tight ballgame they ultimately won 8-2. Eric Davis got things started with a leadoff home run in the seventh inning, his third homer in two games. Bases-loaded singles by Harold Baines and B.J. Surhoff provided an additional four runs that inning. The rally denied a win for Glen Burnie native Tony Saunders, who was the Rays' first pick in the 1997 expansion draft. Saunders made a comeback attempt with the Birds in 2005 as a relief specialist and spent the season in Double-A Bowie.
Mike Mussina pitched a complete-game shutout in the middle game of the series to extend his scoreless streak to 16 2/3 innings. Mussina had 10 strikeouts and no walks. He struck out the side on 10 pitches in the ninth inning to pick up the victory. He would go 19-8 with a 3.50 ERA in 33 career starts against the Rays. The Rays used five pitchers to the Orioles one in losing 7-0 before more than 42,000 fans at Tropicana Field. Cal Ripken Jr. stoked the O's offense with a three-run homer and RBI single. Ripken finished with a career .221 average in 36 games against the Rays, his worst against any team.
Tampa Bay avoided being swept by the Orioles for the first time by winning the series finale 4-3. Rays starter Wilson Alvarez went six innings and struck out six but got the no-decision. He pitched four perfect innings before allowing a leadoff single to Rafael Palmeiro in the fifth. Seven years earlier, Alvarez pitched a no-hitter for the White Sox at Memorial Stadium in his second career start. Former Oriole Esteban Yan tossed two shutout innings in relief for the Rays to earn the win. Surhoff hit his 100th career home run in a losing effort. It was his 56th home run with the Orioles in a little more than two seasons; he had 57 homers in nine seasons with the Brewers.
The Rays finished the 1998 season 7-5 against the Orioles, their best record against any club. Altogether, Tampa Bay had a winning record versus four teams in its inaugural year - the Orioles, Athletics (6-5), Tigers (6-5), and White Sox (6-5). However, at 63-99, they finished 16 games behind the O's in last place in the American League East, 51 games behind the first-place Yankees , who won 114 games.
Matthew Taylor blogs about the Orioles at Roar from 34. His ruminations about the Birds will appear this week as part of MASNsports.com's season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.