When I asked manager Brandon Hyde before last night's game how his clubhouse was holding up after four straight losses and two straight to Tampa Bay, he basically said he didn't sense any difference. His team was ready for a big game Saturday night after losing by 4-3 and 7-1 to a Rays team that was red-hot and had now tied the Orioles for the lead in the American League East.
“I just think they’re disappointed, but they’re going to bounce back, ready to play tonight,” Hyde said. “I haven’t sensed anything. You can hear them interacting well. We had a good hitters meeting a while ago, but we do every day. So, I think they’re ready to go.”
They were indeed ready to go.
After scoring six runs the previous four games, they scored six runs in four innings. Off Tyler Glasnow, a pitcher with a 3.15 ERA for the year. Glasnow was 2.53 in 10 second-half starts.
The Rays entered Saturday's game having allowed four or fewer earned runs in 11 consecutive games, their longest streak since a club-record 19-game run from Sept. 16, 2021 to April 10, 2022. Tampa Bay's pitching staff has posted an AL-best 2.79 ERA in that span.
Then the O's slumping offense broke out. Against that pitcher and that staff in maybe the biggest game of the year.
Gunnar Henderson, once baseball's No. 1 prospect, and right-hander Grayson Rodriguez, once baseball's No. 1 pitching prospect - both are products of the No. 1 farm system in the sport - led the way.
If the O's youth and inexperience is going to be a question mark in the playoffs, it sure was not last night. Youth was served. And the Rays were served - a blowout loss by 8-0.
Stopping the losing streak was huge, and the win stopped the panic in some corners of Birdland as the O's claimed the playoff tiebreaker over Tampa Bay. The Orioles have won the season series 7-5 with one game to play today.
They reclaimed first place by a game and can take a two-game lead with a win today. The Orioles' magic number to clinch their first playoff berth since 2016 now stands at one.
Yep, it was a huge win. We cannot oversell this win.
Rodriguez threw a career-high eight innings, allowing just five hits. He shut down one of the highest-scoring teams in baseball on a night the Orioles needed him badly. He also said the clubhouse was holding up just fine during the short losing streak.
"Everybody showed up ready to play ball," Rodriguez said. "We hadn't really run into a stretch like this, but I don't think you could really tell that from the guys. The attitudes didn't change. Everybody was still confident in their ability to go out there and win a baseball game."
Henderson was 3-for-3 in the first four innings and drove in three. His two-run shot in the second opened an early 4-0 lead. The offense was clearly back on track.
Henderson, who hit his 27th homer, tying Eddie Murray for third on the club's single-season rookie homer list, has 13 extra-base hits his last 16 games. In that span he is batting .315 with six doubles, two triples, five homers, 15 runs, 14 RBIs and an OPS of .991.
Special player who is playing special ball. And cementing his lock on the AL Rookie of the Year Award.
"What he's doing as a rookie's pretty amazing, really all year," Hyde said. "I've just been so impressed by him and his physical tools, how hard he plays, his mentality, how aggressive he is. ... The way he runs the bases. For being 22 years old and playing on this type of stage in late September and playing for stuff, it's really fun to watch."
Despite the recent batting slump, the O's offense has now produced 62 runs the last 10 games, 88 in 14 and 169 runs the last 27 games for an average of 6.3 per game in that span.
The O's thrilled an enthusiastic crowd of 38,432 as Henderson and Rodriguez led the way.
"We had a lot of guys step up, but those two guys for sure," Hyde said. "Their grit, their high character, ultra-competitive guys. They have no fear. They think they belong and they think they should succeed. They're really hard on themselves, and sometimes that's to the detriment of both of them. But they'll get over that as they mature."
The Orioles are over their losing streak. And now what will also be over soon is a playoff drought dating to 2016.