In some ways it was a familiar script for the Orioles. Big plays, big hits and another big win. In other ways it was different.
Different as in they won a big series at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. In recent years they haven’t played very many big series there and certainly have won very many series of any kind.
Going into the 2023 season, the Orioles had lost 15 straight series at the Trop. A place where, from the 2020-2022 seasons, they went 3-18. They had last won a series there June 23-25, 2017. But they take three of four this series and leave there with a two-game lead atop the AL East.
With a 6-3 lead in the season series – and the Rays have won six straight season series from the O’s – they need just one win in four games when these clubs meet in September to win this year’s season series. That would be big for tiebreaker purposes. If these teams are tied for the division lead or any playoff spot when the regular season ends, the first tiebreaker is head-to-head play.
From Aug. 25, 2020, through April 10, 2022, the Orioles were 2-27 versus the Rays. The clubs have now played 25 games since that date and the Orioles are 15-10 in those games.
"Tough place to play, trouble playing here in the past, and we just played four really good games against a really good team," said manager Brandon Hyde. "Just really proud of all of our guys' efforts. It's going to take 26 or more the rest of the way. Everybody contributed. We did a lot of things well this series and hopefully we can keep it rolling into Philly."
In each win in this series, the O’s lost a lead as the Rays tied the game. But each time Baltimore reclaimed the lead. Yesterday it was when Ryan O’Hearn hit a left-of-left solo homer leading off the O’s sixth against Colin Poche. And the Birds had a 4-3 lead and later a 5-3 win.
Before that homer, which went 331 feet off the left-field foul pole, O’Hearn was 1-for-9 versus lefty pitchers this year. And in his career was batting .166 with a .496 OPS with just three homers in 174 career plate appearances against southpaws.
"In a great spot here at this ballpark, and left-on-left," Hyde said. "Off a tough lefty, too. Tough time getting hits against in the past, and he backsides him with a homer off the pole. Good for Ryan. Ryan O'Hearn's gotten huge hits for us this year and he continues to be just an absolute gamer. And love the way he plays."
Meanwhile we might call this the Gunnar Henderson series. He may have had just four hits in the series, but his speed and defense were all over the O’s wins too. His hustle triple in fourth on Thursday keyed a three-run inning. Yesterday he legs-out an infield hit in the first and scores on Adley Rutschman’s double. And then blasts a two-run shot 446-feet in the second. Got the first run on speed and the next two with power.
Entering yesterday’s game Henderson’s OPS was .890 his last 55 games. He has hit three of the six longest O’s homers this season, with Sunday’s blast ranking No. 4.
At the end of the game, Yennier Cano and Félix Bautista, each pitching for the fourth time in five games, got the job done. Before that right-hander Mike Baumann went 2 2/3 scoreless on 38 pitches to improve to 7-0.
“Player of the game for me,” said Hyde of Baumann.
Such a big weekend for the Orioles and so many heroes in the wins.
* The Orioles’ six wins this year over Tampa Bay have come by 4-2, 2-1, 8-6, 4-3, 6-5 and 5-3. They have lost by three, five and three runs.
So, they are 6-0 against Tampa Bay in games decided by two or fewer runs and 3-0 in one-run decisions.
* The Orioles lost their first two AL East series of this year but since April 9, are 6-0-2 in eight division series, going 17-8 in the games. They are 19-11 on the season in AL East games. The Orioles match the 2014 AL East champion club going eight straight series without a loss. That club did that from April 14-June 22, 2014. The last longer streak was 11 consecutive non-losing division series from Aug. 1-Sept. 30, 2012.
* The Rays have now lost seven of eight and 14 of 18 games. They lost two one-run games this series and are 6-14 their past 20 games decided by one run.
* In July, the Orioles are 13-6 and Tampa Bay is 4-14.
* The O’s are now 19-10-3 in series play for the year and 10-4-2 in road series, going 31-18 in 49 road games.
With a two-game lead in the East, it’s now on to Philadelphia.