The Orioles now lead the American League East by seven games following tonight’s 5-4 win over the Rays at Camden Yards.
Do you credit Bud Norris for gutting out six innings after a 34-pitch, two-run first? Or the bullpen, which didn’t allow a run in the four-game series? Or J.J. Hardy, who made a fine play at shortstop to end the top of the seventh and broke a 4-4 tie in the bottom half of the inning?
Maybe you fancy the double-steal in the first inning.
Let’s start with Hardy, who fielded pinch-hitter Logan Forsythe’s soft liner on one hop, stepped on second and turned the double play after Andrew Miller had replaced Brad Brach. Then, of course, he blooped an RBI single into right field to give the Orioles a lead their bullpen would protect.
“J.J. hit a ball on the button, too, earlier, so I guess the flare, he had it coming,” said manager Buck Showalter. “Sabermetrics, you can’t evaluate that kind of mentality. That’s a play you have to think about before it happens. At the very worst you get (Desmond) Jennings off the base.
“One, you have to really trust your hands because he’s taking a short-hop there, and then having the smarts to go take the bag himself. That’s J.J. We’ve been watching it a while here. He made a great play on a knuckleball short-hop earlier in the game. The ball’s knuckling the whole way. You value your teeth, a lot of guys would have olayed that ball, but when you have hands like he does, you trust them.”
Rays manager Joe Maddon trusted reliever Kirby Yates to retire Hardy after ordering an intentional walk to Chris Davis, who’s batting .188.
“Chris has had some really good at-bats all four games,” Showalter said. “He hit the ball hard, what, three times tonight? And he was right in the middle of a lot of rallies. I think he does lead our team in intentional walks probably.
“I would have been thinking about the possibility, too. If you’re watching the game and the type of at-bats and swings he’s having. If you look at his numbers off certain people and what have you. That’s one reason we moved him up tonight. He’s had some success off (Jeremy) Hellickson. You don’t know for sure which Chris you’re going to get, but he’s had some good at-bats lately. And you can tell the way they were pitching him that they’re aware of it.
“You look at the way Chris is swinging the bat. He’s on a lot of pitches, hit some balls hard, just missed a ball, hit the ball into the shift. He’s a threat every time he goes up there. I’d have considered it, too.”
Showalter was reminded of the full extent of the bullpen’s dominance against the Rays, including three scoreless innings tonight.
“Really? Wow. That speaks for itself. You said it,” he said.
“Four-game series are so hard to win, especially with some of the pace of the games we’ve played the last four games. Our bullpen was just solid. Didn’t let anything get in the way, just kept making good pitches.
“I thought the 3-1 pitch to (Evan) Longoria was one of the key pitches to the game because he’s swinging the bat real well. He’s very engaged at swinging. He hurt us a lot this series. That’s the good thing about having Andrew (Miller) and Darren (O’Day). They can defend themselves against left and right.”
Norris got through the sixth on 100 pitches, allowing four runs and six hits.
“Bud just never really got into consistent rhythm,” Showalter said. “He was going hitter to hitter in the sixth inning. It was one of his cleaner innings.
“He kept us engaged in the game at 4-4. It’s not always esthetically pleasing. The end game was good.”
The Orioles took three of four games despite the starters struggling in the early innings, and Wei-Yin Chen and Kevin Gausman failing to get through the fifth.
“There were competitive starts,” Showalter said. “It wasn’t at the level that we’ve been spoiled with now for a while, for an extended period of time, probably one of the most extended periods of time since I’ve been here, so they were competitive starts that kept us engaged in the game and didn’t let it get away from us.
“There are two ways to look at it. I look at the good side, the half full part. It was a little tough. All of the visits and the slow play, you’ve got to really challenge yourself to concentrate through that.”
The Orioles are 9-1 in Norris’ 10 starts against the AL East this season.
Adam Jones was the first Oriole to steal home since Robert Andino on June 14, 2009.
“It was something we had talked about with the defense they play against Chris, and the things that they can do and cannot do,” Showalter said. “It’s a challenge for us, too. That’s a difficult play to defend. There’s a way to do it. It’s really a little bit of a roll of the dice. We were fortunate. It was something that we thought before the series if we got in that situation we might do something there.”
Nick Markakis tied Cal Ripken Jr. (674) for the second-most games played as an Oriole at Camden Yards. Brady Anderson holds the record with 700.
Nelson Cruz’s single in the first inning was the 900th hit of his career.