Orioles manager Brandon Hyde didn’t notice any panic inside his clubhouse this afternoon. His players behaved in the usual way, talking at their lockers, watching college football on the six televisions suspended from the ceiling, playing chess at one of the tables. Jordan Westburg grabbed a plate of food. Teammates headed outside to toss a ball.
Four losses in a row annoyed but didn’t rattle.
“I just think they’re disappointed, but they’re going to bounce back, ready to play tonight,” Hyde said before batting practice. “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.”
Grayson Rodriguez was amped, retiring the first nine batters and striking out four of six. Curtis Mead swung through a 100.1 mph fastball to end the second, the second-fastest strikeout pitch by an Orioles starter in the Statcast era. No one crossed the plate.
Gunnar Henderson was fired up, too. His first two swings of the game produced a leadoff single in the first and a 428-foot, two-run homer in the second, and he delivered a run-scoring single in the fourth. He also set one Orioles rookie record and tied a Hall of Famer on another list.
The Orioles were ready, for sure. To bust out offensively, to end their losing streak, to whittle the magic number for clinching a playoff berth without needing assistance from other teams.
Rodriguez tossed eight shutout innings, Adley Rutschman halted an 0-for-14 skid with an RBI single in the fourth, the Orioles went 6-for-11 with runners in scoring position, and they reclaimed first place with an 8-0 victory over the Rays before an announced crowd of 38,432 at Camden Yards.
The tiebreaker belongs to the Orioles, who also own a sweepless streak of 87 series. They improved to 92-56, while the Rays head into Sunday's game at 92-58. And their magic number for clinching their first playoff berth since 2016 is down to one because the Rangers lost in Cleveland.
"It was a matter of time," Henderson said. "Every team goes through this at some point throughout the season, and we haven't really got on ourselves about it. Just got to play through it and we came out in a big way tonight.
"Definitely not a great time to lose four straight, but everybody goes through it and we're going to keep continuing to go out there and win, and I feel like that will put us in a good position come the last game of the regular season."
"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."
Rodriguez’s previous high in innings was seven on Aug. 14 in San Diego. He was at 84 pitches, with five hits allowed and no walks for the first time in his career, heading into the eighth and retired the side in order, striking out two to leave him with seven and yelling into his glove as it covered his face.
Fans stood and gave him a rousing ovation. The place was electric. Rodriguez seemed to be plugged in all night.
"Just Grayson really coming into his own," Hyde said. "That is the most in command I've seen from him with all of his pitches. ... Absolutely outstanding."
"It seemed like he had everything working," Henderson said.
"Just trying to help the team win," Rodriguez said.
The impact of the reset in Triple-A after a May 26 start and how Rodriguez handled it can't be overstated. Turned around his season. Has the Oriole pointed in the direction they desired all along?
"He's a tough kid, and that was a tough pill to swallow with all the expectations this year," Hyde said. "Give him a ton of credit for dealing with that, looking in the mirror a little bit, understanding that there's some work to do, not a finished product. Still not a finished product. But he's going to be an excellent starting pitcher in this game for a long time if we're lucky. And he's aware of it. He really is a great competitor."
Rodriguez is the youngest Orioles starter to toss eight scoreless innings since Zack Britton in 2011 and the youngest right-hander since Brad Bergesen in 2009.
"Adley was pushing a lot of the right buttons tonight," he said.
"We just kind of had a game plan going into it. Really just going out there, being in the strike zone, letting them get themselves out. We weren't going to be worried about strikeouts or anything else tonight. It was just going to, get the ball in the zone and let them hit it to our guys."
The only real scare for the Orioles was Jonathan Aranda’s 107.6 mph line drive off Rodriguez’s right leg in the fifth inning, an infield single that brought Hyde, head athletic trainer Brian Ebel and pitching coach Chris Holt out of the dugout. Rodriguez threw a few warmup tosses and stayed in the game.
"A lot of adrenaline," said Rodriguez, who had ice wrapped around his leg. "The fans kept me in the game for sure. Me and Adley were laughing about it (earlier). We were coming out of the bullpen and we were saying, 'Let's have some fun. There's 35-40,000 of our best friends here tonight. They kept me in the game, for sure."
Rodriguez went fastball-heavy on the Rays, throwing 38 among 47 pitches through the fourth. Yandy Díaz led off the fourth with a double and Randy Arozarena singled with one out, but the Orioles turned a 4-6-3 double play on Josh Lowe’s grounder.
The Orioles didn’t get their first hit last night until Heston Kjerstad’s leadoff home run in the sixth. Henderson swung at the first pitch tonight from Tyler Glasnow and lined a single into center field. Rutschman walked, the runners moved up on a wild pitch, Anthony Santander struck out and Henderson scored his 90th run – tying Cal Ripken Jr.’s team rookie record – on Ryan O’Hearn’s bloop single into left field.
Austin Hays’ double-play grounder forced the Orioles to settle for one run. At that point, they were 3-for-27 with runners in scoring position in their last five games. They tallied their seventh run in the last five.
"To get lead, that was nice to have," Hyde said. "We haven't had a lead in a while, it feels like. And let Grayson do what he does."
They didn’t shut down, which has been a problem lately. They were clutch while speeding toward a crucial win.
Ramón Urías singled with two outs in the second, advanced on another wild pitch and scored on Adam Frazier’s single. Henderson followed with his blast to center field, raising the bat over his head after making contact. He owned the club’s rookie record for runs scored and tied Eddie Murray for third place on the rookie home run list with 27.
"I feel like I just knew what I was looking for and came out, and I was able to get it early," Henderson said. "Luckily, I didn't miss it."
"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."
“You’ve all seen what Gunnar can do,” Rodriguez said. “We’ve gotten to watch that for a lot longer than a lot of these Orioles fans have, I guess, since being in the minor leagues together. I’m glad the world’s finally seeing what kind of special talent he is.”
Typical of the 2023 season that two of the younger players in Rodriguez and Henderson, elite prospects before graduating, would be so impactful tonight.
"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."
"This is what you dream of when you're going through the minors together is playing meaningful games in September, and going out there and doing it," Henderson said.
Aaron Hicks led off the fourth with a single, Frazier walked with two outs, and consecutive singles by Henderson and Rutschman bumped the lead to 6-0.
The same number of runs they managed during the losing streak.
Glasnow was gone after four innings and 77 pitches, charged with six runs and eight hits in his shortest outing of the season. Cedric Mullins and Urías had RBI singles off Erasmo Ramírez in the fifth, the Orioles were 6-for-10 with RISP, and Tampa Bay’s bullpen streak ended at 36 innings in a row without an earned run.
Rodriguez stranded two runners in the fifth, with Henderson making a nice backhand stop and throw to rob René Pinto and prevent a bases-loaded situation. O’Hearn made the scoop and kept his foot on the bag, with the call upheld upon review.
O’Hearn made a diving stop and flip in the sixth to rob Brandon Lowe, and Henderson and O’Hearn repeated the backhand stop and one-hop throw to retire Manuel Margot. Hays had a sensational leaping catch in left field with two outs in the seventh to take away extra bases from Osleivis Basabe.
The Orioles recorded their 10th shutout. The rotation has 749 strikeouts to break the previous record of 747 in 1968.
One number matters the most.
The one that gets them into the postseason.
"I'm not talking about it until ...," Hyde said, stopping himself. "I'm not saying the word."
"Obviously, to be pitching in September is pretty special," Rodriguez said. "Hopefully, we're doing that into October."
* Triple-A Norfolk’s Chayce McDermott (back strain) and Daz Cameron (left third finger sprain) went on the injured list.
Kyle Stowers hit a two-run homer against Memphis. Coby Mayo had two hits, two walks and two runs scored. Cade Povich tossed six scoreless innings with three hits and eight strikeouts.