Burnes extends quality streak and Orioles complete first four-game sweep at Tropicana Field (updated)

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – The Orioles spent their last eight games playing on artificial surfaces, starting in Toronto and shifting to Florida. There’s nothing fake about the overall results. What they did on the mound, at the plate and in the field.

It was real and it was often spectacular.

The first four-game sweep for the Orioles at Tropicana Field was cemented tonight with a 5-2 victory over the Rays before an announced crowd of 14,686. Gunnar Henderson hit another leadoff homer, Ryan O’Hearn drove in three runs, Corbin Burnes held the Rays to two unearned in seven innings and the club improved to 43-22.

The Orioles have won 14 of their last 18 and return home to face the Braves and Phillies in more traditional three-game sets. They’re packing serious momentum.

O’Hearn broke a 2-2 tie in the fifth with a two-run double off Ryan Pepiot. He pulled a changeup down the right field line with two outs, the eighth pitch of the at-bat. He worked reliever Kevin Kelly for nine in the seventh, fouling off six before pulling a sweeper into right field to score Henderson, who came within a triple of the cycle.

"He can really grind out an at-bat and he gets big hits for us constantly," said manager Brandon Hyde. "I was really impressed with their starter. That was one of the better arms that we've seen all year long. Just the life to his fastball and a great, great changeup. He's got other pitches, also. We were kind of chasing the elevated fastball and O'Hearn got a couple pitches to hit and took great swings on them."

"I know it wasn't the prettiest at-bats tonight, but just competing and finding a way to get it done," O'Hearn said. "That's really all there is to it."

Having two strikes in the count isn't a disadvantage for O'Hearn. Shorten the swing and attack balls in his zone.

"It's a big thing I worked on this offseason and kind of carried it into this year," he said. "It hasn't worked out every time, but when it works out like that, I definitely take pride in that and feel good about my at-bat."

“Going into the season he had a really clear goal of controlling the count and 3-2 counts," co-hitting coach Ryan Fuller said on Sunday. "He’s done an unbelievable job in not just 3-2 counts but really any two-strike count, and it’s been incredible to see that K rate drop to what it is now. That’s really rare at the major league level, at any level, to see the K rate drop 20 percentage points, which has been outstanding to see. He just, regardless of the count, you have to put the pitch in the zone and if you do, I’m going to take a really good swing at it. He’s just a really tough at-bat the whole way through.”

Pepiot threw one pitch and was down 1-0. Henderson launched a 95.6 mph fastball 430 feet to center field, for his 21st home run of the season and his longest. He’s hit seven leading off the first this season and nine in his young career.

"Gunnar's exhausted," Hyde said, "and to lead off the game with a homer just shows you what he's made of."

James McCann led off the third with the Orioles down 2-1 and drove a slider 401 feet to left-center for his second home run of the season. Left fielder Randy Arozarena flinched and stood his ground.

McCann singled in the fifth and moved up on a wild pitch, Henderson reached on an infield single, Jordan Westburg struck out and O’Hearn came through in the clutch.

To complete McCann’s night, he walked in the ninth inning for only the second time this season and stole his first base.

"He's great," Burnes said. "Whenever you get a veteran guy back there, knows hitters, knows the game, has a feel for what's going on, really helps to navigate some games when you don't have your best stuff. We kind of recognized early on what they were trying to do at the plate, we made an adjustment and that's where we saw those middle innings get some quick outs, get the pitch count back down and get through it. But yeah, he's been great behind the plate, he's a great leader in the clubhouse. Put some good swings on the ball tonight. He's a big part of this team."

The Orioles posted their 19th comeback win.

Burnes registered his ninth consecutive quality start, allowing two unearned runs and five hits with one walk and six strikeouts in seven innings. The club record is 12 by Hall of Famer Jim Palmer in 1975. Reaching nine has happened nine times, most recently Erik Bedard in 2007.

"The length and the consistency of just giving up three runs or less, and gave up no earned runs today through seven innings on the road. Just been unbelievable for us," Hyde said.

"To be able to rely on him almost every time out, do what he did tonight, that's a nice luxury to have."

An eight-pitch seventh left Burnes at 92 pitches and lowered his ERA to 2.08.

"I feel like I've thrown the ball well but I think there's still a lot of room to improve," Burnes said. "My goal is to be as prepared as I can when I get out there and stick to the plan and execute as many pitches as I can for as long as I can. And we've been able to do that. There have been some mistakes that have been made, but for the most part been able to bounce back and get out innings when we needed to. But I definitely don't think this is the best I've thrown this year. I think there's a couple good starts early on, but if I'm able to go out there and keep executing pitches I can get outs and do what I can. But I still think there's more room for improvement."

Alex Jackson hit his first home run with two outs in the second inning after Westburg dropped José Caballero’s popup for his second major league error, the other on Aug. 15, 2023 in San Diego. Burnes got ahead 0-2, Jackson worked the count full, and he hit a cutter 431 feet to center to improve on his .043 average.

Burnes stranded two runners in scoring position in the first despite plate umpire Chris Conroy’s creative strike zone. Burnes struck out Isaac Paredes (on a pitch out of the zone) and Amed Rosario back-to-back in a 22-pitch inning.

He should have retired the side in order in the second and saved some pitches for later, but Westburg made the rare miscue.

Paredes led off the sixth with a single and third baseman Ramón Urías backhanded Rosario’s sharp ground ball and started a double play. Burnes was at 84 pitches after Jose Siri flied out. No one stirred in the bullpen.

"In the middle innings we were able to get some quick ones and get the pitch count back under control," Burnes said. "Threw a lot of pitches early, they took some good ABs and were able to get it up, but in the middle innings we made some good pitches, kind of capitalized on their aggressiveness. They were trying to hit the first couple pitches to avoid getting two strikes and used it to our advantage. Got some double plays, got some quick outs and got that pitch count back under control."

The four starters in the series – Cole Irvin, Grayson Rodriguez, Kyle Bradish and Burnes – combined to allow four earned runs in 24 1/3 innings. Bradish retired the last 18 batters he faced after a leadoff infield single in the first inning. Rodriguez was perfect through the fifth.

Rays manager Kevin Cash described Burnes earlier in the day as “one of our game's best” and talked about the veteran’s influence on the younger starters.

“It's tough to watch what Grayson Rodriguez and Bradish have done the last two days and not think that he's had some type of an impact on those guys, just the commitment to the strike zone,” Cash said. “I mean when he's right, super-efficient with pretty wipeout stuff.”

The bullpen didn’t let it go to waste tonight. Yennier Cano stranded the batter he walked in the eighth inning and closer Craig Kimbrel notched his 15th save and 432nd of his career after issuing a leadoff walk in the ninth. The unit has allowed two runs in the last 34 innings.

The Orioles have completed multiple four-game sweeps in a season for the first time since 1987. To do it at Tropicana Field would have been unfathomable just a few years ago.

"Four-game sweep on the road, extremely hard to do in this league," O'Hearn said. "I think it just speaks to the competitive spirit of our guys. Not being satisfied with winning three out of four, but coming in tonight, wrap-around series, we're headed back tonight, not the most ideal conditions, but guys showed up and we competed our butts off and figured out a way to get the sweep. It was awesome."

"I'm impressed this whole year, but this road trip, go 6-2, two losses were one-run games, had chances to win both of those," Hyde said. "To be able to go to two really tough places to play in the division and go 6-2 on the trip ... A four-game sweep is so difficult in the big leagues and we've done that twice this year.

"I think our guys are too young, honestly. Maybe the older guys understand how hard that is, but younger guys, they don't really understand it, that this is not normal. You don't just go on the road and sweep a team four times, no matter what their record is. It's just super-hard to do in the major leagues. Really proud of how our team has played this year, but this road trip has been incredible."

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