Dean Kremer didn’t allow a hit tonight until one out in the fourth inning. Nine batters in a row retired since his back-to-back walks in the first. Then came another single and the possibility of his start eroding.
Isaac Paredes slapped a sinker on the ground. Good for Kremer. The ball was aimed at shortstop Jorge Mateo. Even better.
Mateo began the Orioles’ 42nd double play of the season, most in the majors, and their fifth in the past two nights.
Kremer kept grinding away and waiting for run support that finally came after he left the game.
The Orioles loaded the bases against Yonny Chirinos with no outs in the bottom of the sixth inning and scored twice, Danny Coulombe stranded an inherited runner with two strikeouts in the eighth, and Yennier Cano handled closing duties in a tense 2-1 victory over the Rays before an announced crowd of 14,395 at Camden Yards.
Tampa Bay couldn’t turn a double play on Adam Frazier’s grounder that scored Adley Rutschman with the game’s first run, Austin Hays followed with an RBI single, and the Orioles (24-13) won their eighth series out of nine. They twice took down the team with the best record in baseball.
Wander Franco had an RBI single with one out in the eighth, only the second run allowed by Austin Voth in his last seven appearances and 11 innings. Making his first appearance since Kevin Pillar’s go-ahead home run in Atlanta, Coulombe struck out pinch-hitter Randy Arozarena on three pitches and Harold Ramírez on four.
Cano entered again after throwing 18 pitches last night in 1 2/3 innings, and he retired the Rays in order without the ball leaving the infield. He hasn't allowed a run or walked a batter in 18 2/3 innings, and he's struck out 22 batters.
"It's unbelievable," Hays said. "I'm glad I'm playing defense behind him and I'm not in the box. That's an uncomfortable at-bat. Got a lot of movement, tough arm angle, and he throws hard. He's doing a great job for us. He's throwing a lot, too. He's been nails for us. It's awesome."
"Definitely take your chances with the stuff that both those guys have in the back end of a game," manager Brandon Hyde said of Cano and Félix Bautista, who wasn't available. "They've proven it over and over that they're extremely hard to hit."
"Every night, they're legit," Kremer said of the bullpen. "There's not one guy that you can be like, 'Oh, maybe.' No. Every guy that we throw out of the bullpen is top."
The Orioles’ rotation has registered nine quality starts, including four from Kyle Gibson and three from Kremer, who exited after 95 pitches.
The last, to Luke Raley, would have been a home run to left field before 2022.
Kremer allowed four hits, walked two batters and struck out four over six innings. He’s surrendered only one run and 10 hits in his last two starts over 12 innings, including Friday night’s game in Atlanta.
"Very pleased, regardless of who it's against," said Kremer, who improved his record to 4-1, "but I'm glad it's against teams of that caliber."
"Two of the better offensive teams, and right at the right time," Hyde said. "We talked about how well he pitched in Atlanta, and then tonight, even better. He's figuring it out a little bit and learning how to pitch. Got a double play ball when he needed it, used the sinker effectively, he can step on a four-seamer from 96-97 and he does that well. He's got other pitches, as well.
"That's a tough lineup to navigate through and he did an outstanding job."
"His velo seems like it's really starting to get up there, too," Hays said. "Seen a lot of guys late on his heater. Ball's jumping out of his hand, everything's really tight. It's been great. I love our pitching staff and I love playing defense behind them."
The Orioles’ record for most double plays turned is 191 in 1999 per STATS. They haven’t led the American League since turning 175 in 2017 or the majors since turning 188 in 1977.
"We've got really good infielders, and we had last year and we're doing it again this year," Hyde said.
"Love the infield defense we're playing, and huge help for our pitching staff."
The Orioles were 5-for-42 with runners in scoring position in the last five games after Hays singled into left field to score Anthony Santander for a 2-0 lead. Rutschman led off with a single, Santander doubled and Ryan Mountcastle walked on a pitch clock violation before Frazier’s grounder.
Gunnar Henderson walked to fill the bases again, but Jorge Mateo and Ryan O’Hearn were each retired on one pitch, making the Orioles 5-for-44 with RISP.
Mountcastle had five walks before tonight. He drew another one leading off the eighth, advanced on a passed ball and Frazier grounder, and was stranded. Hays lined to first, Henderson was walked intentionally and Mateo popped up in foul territory.
Josh Lowe and Christian Bethancourt opened the fifth with singles, the former’s ground ball finding a hole on the right side of the infield. Kremer struck out the next two batters on a sinker and 96 mph fastball, and retired Franco on a liner to left.
Kremer retired the side in order in the sixth on a strikeout and two fly balls. His ERA went from 6.67 before the Braves start to 4.97 tonight.
"Any time you can look up and see no runs, you did something right," Kremer said. "Thankful. Defense tonight was top tier."
Rays opener Jalen Beeks handled the first two innings and allowed one baserunner on Frazier’s opposite-field double with one out in the second. Frazier advanced on a wild pitch and was stranded.
Henderson lined a changeup into deep right-center field, 372 feet and 99.7 mph off the bat, but Jose Siri ran it down.
Beeks threw 21 strikes among his 28 pitches. The Rays executed their plan of using Chirinos in bulk.
Cedric Mullins singled with two outs in the third and stole his 12th base, and Rutschman drew his 30th walk, but Santander flew to center. Hays doubled with two outs in the fourth and Henderson grounded out.
O’Hearn walked with one out in the fifth and Mullins grounded into a 4-6-3 double play.
The Orioles dropped two of three to the Braves but both losses were late and by one run. The Rays won the opener Monday night and lost the next two.
"We played extremely well," Hyde said. "The Atlanta series was a little bit of a bummer, winning that first one and had opportunities to win the next two and didn't. But coming here and playing against these guys, who are very difficult to play against because their pitching is so good and their lineup is the best in baseball right now. They just do a lot of things, really, really well. We've pitched extremely well the last six games and really happy with how we've thrown the ball.
"Our pitching really stepped up. We had some difficulties in Kansas City and we kind of limped into Atlanta a little bit. ... For this team to have success, we need to pitch, and these last six games we've thrown the ball outstanding."
"I think we're doing a decent job," Kremer said. "We stole one from the Braves at their place and took two from the Rays at our place. We're just trying to build off that and continue that for the rest of the season."
Said Hays: "That was big for us. We felt like we in those games and had a really good chance to win a series there in Atlanta, so to be in that same situation here, have a hard-fought game again, good pitching on both sides, and just try to find a way to have timely hitting and score some runs to give us a lead and let our bullpen do their thing.
"To show up at the park knowing that you're going to have a chance to win every game that you play is a phenomenal feeling after some of the big losses, just being out of it in the third and fourth inning a couple years ago. It's come a long way really fast and that's all you can ask for as a competitor is show up and have a chance to win every game night in and night out. So, it's a great feeling."
The club vowed that this would happen, long before players convened in Sarasota. Going 3-3 against the two best teams in baseball, and coming so close to taking the series at Truist Park, just feels right. The 2023 season is going to be much different.
"I know you guys talked to us a lot in spring training about expectations," Hays said. "We were expecting this from ourselves, to come in and have a chance to win every night. I think we've grown a lot the last couple years. We've learned how to win these tight games, minimize some of the damage, and just continue to fight. And now we're coming out on the other side of these games, that we were losing a lot of the close ones last year.
"We've kind of turned that page, and that's what good teams do."
* Mychal Givens threw 19 pitches in two-thirds of an inning tonight for Double-A Bowie in Harrisburg, and he allowed two runs and one hit with one walk. He’s scheduled to go back-to-back Thursday.
* Justin Armbruester allowed one run and three hits with seven strikeouts in five innings. César Prieto registered his 13th multi-hit game.