The Orioles almost made it through tonight’s game without committing an error, perhaps because they’ve gotten so good at handling everything thrown at them.
Players are lost to injury or trade. Opponents change unexpectedly and games are rearranged like furniture. Manager Brandon Hyde puts out fires and jokes about dressing for the part.
This team is only interested in staying hot.
The Rays scored three runs in the top of the eighth inning to tie the game, taking advantage of Shawn Armstrong’s errant throw on an attempted force play, but Pat Valaika lined a two-strike single into right field off Chaz Roe in the bottom of the 11th inning and the Orioles claimed a 5-4 win at Camden Yards.
Bryan Holaday was placed at second base, with baseball using minor league rules in 2020, and he moved up on Pedro Severino’s sacrifice bunt against Oliver Drake. Rio Ruiz was issued an intentional walk, Chance Sisco struck out, Roe entered and Valaika made contact - raising his fist as he ran to first base.
Ji-Man Choi inherited second base in the top of the 10th and Cedric Mullins threw him out at third base after running down Yoshi Tsutsugo’s fly ball to the warning track. Tanner Scott walked the next two batters, threw a wild pitch and escaped the jam by striking out Kevin Kiermaier.
Hanser Alberto stood at second base as Drake worked the bottom of the 10th. He moved up on a ground ball and was thrown out at the plate on Renato Núñez’s grounder to short. José Iglesias pinch-hit, recovered from his quadriceps injury, and popped up.
With Ruiz playing left field for the first time in the majors and Holaday at first base, Travis Lakins Sr. kept the game tied to set up the dramatic finish. But mostly because Holaday made a lunging catch of Manuel Margot’s blistering line drive and doubled off Kevin Kiermaier at second base.
It would finally come to an end. Lakins the winner, his first time in the majors, and Valaika the hero. In 2020 style.
Núñez collected the Orioles’ initial hit off Tyler Glasnow with a leadoff home run in the fourth, they manufactured a couple of runs and Wade LeBlanc carried a shutout into the sixth inning. Then it got tense, but a series win is assured and the Orioles improved to 4-3 heading into Sunday’s finale.
Tampa Bay sprung to life in the eighth, aided by Armstrong’s error after he fielded Yandy Diaz’s tapper near the mound. José Martínez’s bloop single with the bases loaded and one out reduced the lead to 4-2. Miguel Castro induced a ground ball that scored a run and Kiermaier lined a pinch-hit single into right field.
LeBlanc surrendered a leadoff home run to Mike Brosseau in the sixth, recorded an out and exited. The Orioles clung to a 2-1 lead.
They were determined to shove their record back over .500.
Núñez drew a leadoff walk in the sixth, moved to third on Dwight Smith Jr.’s single and scored on Severino’s single. Ruiz followed with a sacrifice fly.
The game ventured into new territory and the Orioles have a shot at their first series sweep since August 2018 against the Blue Jays
It matters to them.
The Orioles spent another evening at the ballpark competing hard and hoping for improvement in the standings. Sticking to the rallying cry that anything is possible in a 60-game season. Refusing to shy away from the idea of making an expanded playoff field.
They hold tightly to the mindset and chase any glimmer of hope while watching a trustworthy reliever and bullpen leader walk out the door.
Trading Richard Bleier only six games into the season risks sending a message to the clubhouse that 2020 doesn’t allow for such optimism. That it’s foolish to focus on competing.
Executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias said that wasn’t the intent.
“No, not at all,” Elias stated earlier today in a Zoom conference call. “I mean, look, we’re off to a good start. We’re 3-3, but we could have won an extra game there and the guys are playing well. It’s good energy, we’ve got good young players on the team that are perhaps having breakout years. We’ll see. And we want to keep this rolling.
“But the modern business of the game now, you look at a lot of clubs, the team we’re playing tonight, the Rays, they’re very transactional. You’ve got to pick your times and cycle guys in and cycle guys out and keep the talent flow going. We’re still in a point in our cycle where we’re going to prioritize stuffing the talent pipeline as much as possible in the minor leagues and getting that base and then the goal is to persist in that way once we have that talent base filled in. But by no means does this mean that we don’t hope this team this year continues to win.
“I think it’s an ‘anything goes’ kind of year and we’re going to go out and try to win every game every night.”
The distraction is appreciated. Something to get their minds off the pandemic, constant disruptions to the schedule and daily risks after leaving their homes and hotel rooms.
“When the games start there’s a little bit of an exhale for sure,” manager Brandon Hyde said during his Zoom call.
“We’re working and we’re happy to be here, so that’s the attitude that I’m taking is that we’re trying to do our best to make this season work. Like I said many times, we’re going to follow everything because we really want to play. We’re following everything around the league, also, but yeah, our day is a lot different than a normal season for sure. My day’s a lot different. But when the game starts it does feel like a baseball game and that is a good feeling.
“It’s not a good feeling to not have fans in the stands, but it’s fun to watch our guys compete, and we’re playing against another club and the competition’s still there, so that is the nice break of the day.”
LeBlanc was charged with one run and four hits in 5 1/3 innings, with one walk and three strikeouts. He left after 83 pitches.
Brosseau’s fly ball cleared the left field fence by inches - his sixth home run against the Orioles in 27 at-bats.
LeBlanc stranded two runners in the first by getting a called third strike on Willy Adames, but the Rays worked him for 20 pitches. He needed only 11 in the second while retiring the side in order and found a nice rhythm.
Walking only one batter in two starts this season will make his manager do a happy dance.
Evan Phillips got a three-pitch strikeout and ground ball after replacing LeBlanc and he retired the side in order in the seventh. Hyde let him come back out for the eighth and Joey Wendle bounced a single into right field.
That’s when the game began to fall apart for the Orioles, who handed the Rays an extra out and got slapped.
Glasnow walked the bases loaded with two outs in the second and ran the count full to Andrew Velazquez, who flied to deep center field. Núñez hit a 412-foot shot to left field in the fourth and Smith built on the lead with a single, stolen base, advancement on a fly ball and Ruiz single.
The Rays made a pitching change with two outs in the fifth.
It’s worth remembering that Glasnow allowed three runs with no walks and 20 strikeouts over 18 innings in three career starts against the Orioles before tonight. Walking the bases loaded in the second and being worked for 88 pitches in 4 2/3 fit right into the oddity of the 2020 season.
Update: The Orioles executed the first leadoff double play in major league history tonight in the 10th inning. More 2020 weirdness.
“Make sure we write that down,” Hyde said.
“How about Cedric Mullins’ throw? That was fantastic.”
Hyde on managing with the new extra inning rule: “I’ve never done it before. I’m glad to get that one under my belt. It’s definitely different. And I did enjoy it. There’s a lot that goes into it and I’m glad we came out with the win. It makes it exciting, for sure. I’m sure it’s exciting for the fans. It’s pretty nerve-wracking in the dugout, but we got two double plays out of it defensively.”
Valaika on where walk-off single ranks in his career: “I mean, they all count. A special moment. I’ve had some opportunities in my career before that I haven’t taken advantage of, so it was nice to do it tonight.”
LeBlanc on what enables him to be this effective: “Just the ability to read hitters, trust the catcher, trust the game plan, stick to it and understand who I am as a pitcher. No matter what the situation is. It’s easy for a competitor to maybe get outside of themselves a little bit in tight situations, but for a guy like me, the more experience you get, the more you learn yourself as a person and as a ballplayer, as well. So it becomes easier to kind of make sure you’re staying within your strengths and not trying to do too much.”
LeBlanc on the new extra inning rule: “It was exciting. I can say that because we came out on top, but I think I would feel the same way even if it went in the other direction. For me personally, anything that can keep a game from going 19 innings, I’m all for it.”