ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Brett Phillips, a folk hero among Rays fans, lined a ball up the middle today in the sixth inning that constituted actual hard contact against Drew Rasmussen. Except that second baseman Yu Chang was playing close to the bag, handled the hop and recorded the final out.
The last real chance, it appeared, for the Orioles to get a baserunner.
The last chance, it seemed, to prevent a crucial series from turning historic.
Six perfect innings by Rasmussen led to two more, but Jorge Mateo lined the first pitch of the ninth down the left field line for a double in Tampa Bay's 4-1 victory over the Orioles at Tropicana Field.
The Orioles have been no-hit seven times, but they've never been victims of a perfect game. This one was real close.
Fans stood and cheered for Rasmussen after Mateo reached. A wild pitch allowed Mateo to score with one out, also ruining a bid for a shutout.
Phillips struck out and reached on a wild pitch, and Rasmussen left to another ovation after 8 1/3 innings. He threw 87 pitches.
"Give him a lot of credit," said manager Brandon Hyde. "He was throwing 96. I thought the cutter, slider, whatever that is, just from the side had a ton of depth to it. We just had a tough time squaring him up. A lot of early-count, weak outs, which helped him out. He threw a heck of a game."
There have been 21 perfect games in the majors since 1900, the last by the Mariners’ Félix Hernández on Aug. 15, 2012.
Rasmussen hadn’t exceeded seven innings in his three seasons, but he made short work of the Orioles. Phillips was retired on Rasmussen’s 54th pitch of the day. Two ground balls and a fly ball in the seventh required only nine pitches.
Shortstop Taylor Walls made a backhanded stop of Ramón Urías’ ground ball leading off the eighth and threw him out. Rougned Odor struck out on seven pitches. Austin Hays fell behind 0-2 and bounced to first baseman Ji-Man Choi.
"You understand what’s happened the first two times through the order," Rasmussen said. "You go out there for the seventh and you have a quality inning. You go out there for the eighth, a quality inning, and so you really start to understand what’s happening. It was just a really cool outing, a really cool environment to be in.”
Mateo scorched the ball. Nothing cheap about it.
"We just stayed with the same game plan going into that last inning," he said via interpreter Brandon Quinones. "We weren't trying to change anything. Credit to the pitcher, he pitched a really good game. Attacking the strike zone in different places. He did a really good job. But we stayed with the same plan throughout, and thank God I was able to get the hit in the last inning.
"It was definitely a relief. No team ever wants to have that on them and be the team that got a perfect game thrown against them, so it was definitely nice to get that hit in the last inning. We've been playing well. Hopefully, we keep it going."
Randy Arozarena hit a three-run homer off Jordan Lyles in the third inning that swung the game in Tampa Bay’s favor, and it never came back.
Lyles made the pitch, saw and heard the contact, turned toward first base and rested his bare hand and glove on top of his head. He didn’t watch the flight of the ball. He knew where it was headed. And he couldn’t believe that he let it happen.
The Orioles still haven’t won a season series from Rays since 2015, a much bigger deal this year because head-to-head competition is the first tie-breaker if the teams finish with the same record.
The loss leaves the Orioles at 59-55 heading into Toronto. They’re 1 ½ games behind the Rays.
Arozarena has six home runs and 16 RBIs against the Orioles this season, and 15 homers and 38 RBIs in 37 career games. He’s a constant annoyance, and he struck today with runners on second and third base and two outs.
"He's just talented," Lyles said. "His bat-to-ball skills are really good. He can go on some stretches with the best of them. ... He's been tough on us. Maybe that's something to look forward to in the future, maybe not letting him in particular beat us. But when a guy's hot, he's hot, and he can get on one of the best streaks you'll see in baseball."
José Siri led off with a single and Taylor Walls doubled to right-center field after thinking he drew a walk on the previous pitch and taking a couple steps toward first. Lyles struck out Choi and Yandy Díaz popped up in foul territory, with catcher Adley Rutschman running down the ball, but Arozarena launched a sinker 402 feet to left field.
Hyde didn't consider ordering an intentional walk to Arozarena with first base open and David Peralta on deck.
"He threw him a sinker, foul ball," Hyde said. "Went back to the sinker, and Arozarena has our number for whatever reason. In those situations we have to do a lot better job of just pitching and follow the game plan. That was a big hit, and unfortunately, we didn't score, either."
Arozarena looked at the Rays’ dugout, pounded his chest and chucked his bat before heading to first. Lyles had a different reaction.
"Obviously, the game came down to that third inning, that three-run home run to Arozarena," Lyles said. "Just a sinker in. I beat him his first at-bat a bunch of times with the sinker in. Went to it the first pitch of that second at-bat in the third inning, and I went back in there and it wasn't a good pitch. It didn't sink, it didn't run, so he put a good swing on it."
Hyde removed Lyles after 4 1/3 innings, and Joey Krehbiel let an inherited runner score on Peralta’s single. Lyles was charged with four runs and five hits, but he also struck out a season-high nine batters.
A perfect version of Lyles would have only allowed him to keep up with Rasmussen.
"I thought other than that mistake right there, Adley and I threw it pretty well," Lyles said. "I thought maybe a little bit better than being pulled in the fifth, when you look back on things, but that was the game right there, that three-run shot in the third."
Asked if he could appreciate what Rasmussen did, Lyles said, "Tomorrow I will."
"It was quick innings," he said. "I barely had time to sit down, when guys are efficient and allowing guys to hit balls at people. ... Outings like that are special. You need some luck on your side, you need to have your better stuff. Luckily, Mateo came through in the ninth and we avoided that situation."
One critical series is over, and now comes another against the Blue Jays. That’s life for a playoff contender. Each defeat seems to border on devastating.
"I thought our guys stayed positive," Hyde said. "We've got to turn the page on this one. We're going to face a really good Toronto team tomorrow. It's a disappointing way to end this series, but we have to move on now.
"We're disappointed in today's game. We faced a guy that threw really well against us and we scored only one run on a wild pitch and that was it. Like I said, we have a lot of season left and we've got to turn the page on this one and go face a good Toronto team."
"It's difficult to lose two games against these guys, but the mentality doesn't change," Mateo said. "We've got to continue to play hard and go out there and compete again. They played really good baseball this weekend and we did all we could. Going into Toronto this upcoming week, we're going to go in there and play hard and keep doing what we do."
Executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias said this morning on MLB Network Radio that he believes the Orioles will get into the playoffs.
“I like where this is going,” he said. “I think that this team has staying power for the next month and a half.”
Words that pleased Hyde, who feels the same way.
“Mike’s been incredibly supportive since I’ve been here,” he said. “I know that he really likes this team, and to have his support, the front office’s support, is huge. He’s treated us so well. Nice to hear him say that, and we’re going to try to make it happen.”
The bar has been raised beyond just wanting to be competitive. The disappointment will be severe if the Orioles aren’t in the postseason.
They don’t want a participation trophy. They don’t want moral victories.
They most certainly don’t want to wind up on the wrong side of history, which almost happened today.
“I think that we’ve fought for 4 ½ months and we’ve put ourselves in position, and proud of our guys for what they’ve been able to do so far,” Hyde said before Rasmussen stepped on the mound. “It’s a tough schedule the rest of the way, and I think our guys are going to compete and try to win every night. We have as good a chance as anybody.”
"We've got everything we want in front of us starting tomorrow," Lyles said. "I think we're in a good spot. I feel like we're very confident. We let these last two games get away from us. We've got Toronto tomorrow, we can put our stamp on things moving forward. We're going to see a lot of guys in the division here shortly, so it's up to us to how we react and handle ourselves."
Notes: Elias also said on MLB Network Radio that Triple-A Norfolk shortstop Gunnar Henderson’s promotion to the majors this year is “definitely on the table,” and he’s “on the radar screen.” But the club also is being careful to put his development first.
Elias also said again that the Orioles should be much bigger spenders this winter.
“Our plan for this offseason has always been to significantly escalate the payroll,” he said. “I think a lot of that is going to come through our own guys going into arbitration, but also we plan to explore free agency much more aggressively. We plan to maybe make some buy trades for some guys that are either on contracts or kind of in the tail end of arbitration. And I think the success in the first half that this team has had so far has only cemented those plans. So, I’m really looking forward to the offseason and kind of a Winter Meetings environment where we’re buying. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun for our group and the organization when we’re buying.”