ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Tommy Hunter left a pitch over the middle of the plate tonight in the bottom of the ninth inning.
Then came the slow walk to the clubhouse.
Matt Joyce, who began the game on the bench, homered to right field to give Tampa Bay a wild 8-7 victory over the Orioles.
Joyce got ahead 3-1 and evened the series.
“He put a good swing on it,” Hunter said after allowing the first walk-off hit of his career. “It was just not an executed pitch.”
Hunter retired the side in order in the eighth on three fly balls, and the Orioles tied the game against Rays closer Fernando Rodney in the top of the ninth.
“You feel really good,” Hunter said. “It’s just all about executing pitches. I wasn’t able to do that throughout the second inning. Game’s over.
“It’s going to be a fun series. It was a situation tonight where I fell behind in the count and they took advantage of it. It was a pitch you’d like to have back. Execute a little better, learn from it and move on.”
Hunter said he didn’t think about the possibility of one pitch ending the game.
“No, that really never crossed my mind,” he said. “It’s not a game where a lot of success happens, but like I said, you make a quality pitch right there and that makes a difference.”
Pedro Strop gave up three runs and four hits in the seventh inning. He permitted only one run against them in 10 appearances last season.
“It’s frustrating because they scored a couple runs and we had a chance to win that game and they just scored a couple runs on some crazy stuff, but I just tried to keep my mind in the game. In a baseball game, anything can happen. You saw that tonight,” Strop said.
“I felt pretty good. All my pitches were there. I can’t complain about the way I felt. I made some good pitches. It’s the kind of thing that happens sometimes in the game. You guys were witnesses. I don’t think I was doing anything different than between spring training and now. I feel great. I’ll tell you that.”
Strop didn’t blame the workload from the WBC.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “I was right there. I was making good pitches. If it was something where I was throwing balls and doing stuff I’m not used to doing... I feel like me. I feel pretty good. I think I was making my pitches. Balls were just finding holes.”
Strop didn’t anticipate Joyce’s bunt single against the shift.
“I wasn’t expecting that bunt because he’s kind of a power hitter,” Strop said. “We were up by one run and a power hitter like that can just come in and tie the game. I was just focusing on putting the ball wherever I wanted. It was a good bunt, too. I don’t know him as a good bunter. It surprised me.”
Wei-Yin Chen hasn’t picked up a win in his last seven regular season starts, going 0-4 in that span. He’s allowed three earned runs or fewer in five of his six career starts against the Rays, but he’s gone 1-3.
“To be honest with you, my control and my command wasn’t there early in the game,” Chen said through his interpreter after being charged with two runs and seven hits in 5 2/3 innings. “I just tried to throw strikes and it’s hard for me, especially (because) they swing at everything. It was hard for me in the beginning.
“Between innings, I talked to Rick (Adair) a little bit and I find out I have to do some adjustments on my delivery. That’s why I got my rhythm back and I got my timing back, and that’s why I could keep in the whole game.”
Chris Davis went 4-for-4 with four RBIs. He’s the first player in franchise history to collect three or more RBIs in the first two games of the season.
Davis has homered in eight of his last nine games dating back to Sept. 26. He has four homers in his last five games against the Rays, all at Tropicana Field, and six in his last 11 games overall against Tampa Bay dating back to July 26.
“The past few games, I think it’s more of a feeling than it is (this) field,” he said. “I’m not chasing a lot of pitches, try to get a pitch to hit and not miss it.”
The Rays grounded into a double play in three straight innings, the first time they did it since July 24, 2007 in Baltimore.