The baseball side of Alexander Wells’ life came at him hard again, with little interest in his comfort or convenience.
The short notice that he’d make his first major league start this afternoon. The leadoff home run by Randy Arozarena. The two walks that followed in the inning and the run-scoring triple before an out was recorded in the second.
Wells doesn’t get flustered. He doesn’t crumble beneath the pressure. He was wearing the uniform and living the dream. Maybe the quality of some pitches will improve in his next outing, along with the circumstances.
He’ll take the way he left a game that the Orioles led, wishing only for a different outcome.
Arozarena homered again in the fifth, but Ryan Mountcastle shoved the lead back at the Orioles with an RBI single in the sixth following Trey Mancini’s double. Wells allowed three runs in 5 2/3 innings, but Austin Meadows lined a two-run, two-strike single into center field off Tanner Scott with two outs in the ninth and the Rays defeated the Orioles 5-4 at Tropicana Field.
Paul Fry stranded Brandon Lowe after a two-out walk in the eighth, and Scott came close to surviving a bases-loaded jam in the ninth and registering the second save of his career, the other on Aug. 23, 2020.
Francisco Mejía singled, Mike Zunino walked and Arozarena reached when Pat Valaika and Mountcastle collided while chasing his popup. Vidal Bruján struck out and Meadows fought off upper-90s fastballs and sliders before his walk-off hit.
Valaika led off the third inning with a home run and Mountcastle did the same in the fourth, breaking two ties on the day, but the Orioles fell to 31-64 and went 3-3 on the trip. They’re 4-2 in rubber games.
Wells, the native of Australia and top 20 prospect, threw 93 pitches but didn’t earn his second win in three appearances. He allowed five hits, walked two batters and struck out seven.
“Really settled in nicely,” manager Brandon Hyde said on his Zoom call. “Thought he threw well to their left-handers really after that second inning. Thought he had his slider going, pitched in with his fastball to lefties and righties and really competed into the sixth inning. So gave us a chance to win.
“He really competed, I think the guy competes. He did that in Houston, too. He doesn’t have the fastball that’s going to blow by people or the plus-plus stuff, but he does compete with what he has and did a nice job commanding the baseball after the second inning.”
Hyde hadn’t seen video of the misplayed popup in the ninth and couldn’t offer an opinion. He chose Scott because Rule 5 pick Tyler Wells wasn’t available.
“Kind of a tough play for both guys and we didn’t record the out,” he said. “The walk before that hurt. Tanner’s been throwing the ball great. That was my first time putting him in the ninth inning in that kind of situation. Wellsy was down today, so Tanner was going to close that game if we had a save situation and one strike away. Give Meadows credit there for putting the ball in play with two strikes off a tough left-handed pitcher. Yeah, that one hurts.
“We’re putting guys in spots they really haven’t been in. We don’t have high-end, back-of-the-bullpen guys. Alex Wells makes his first start today on the road in Tampa and our guys did a nice job. We were one strike away. It was the first time Tanner’s been in a save situation this year. I’ve been kind of looking for that a day that Tyler was down, give Tanner an opportunity there and he was one strike away from getting out of it.”
“I called it pretty late there, and honestly, I didn’t know Pat was over there,” Mountcastle said. “At The Trop, you can’t really put your head down and run, you’ve got to stare at the ball the whole time so you don’t lose it. So I think we were both just doing that and it was sort of a tough play for both of us and unfortunately collided a little bit and let it fall. But it’s a tough play, I think.”
Pitching coach Chris Holt informed Wells around 11:30 p.m. that the rookie would be starting, which led to phone calls to family and his girlfriend and an attempt to sleep.
“I managed to get a little bit,” he said. “I’m glad it was a day game because I didn’t really have much time to think about anything and just get out there and get going.”
Arozarena launched a hanging curveball over the left-center field fence to tie the game 1-1 just two pitches into Wells’ start. He knotted the score again leading off the fifth and stepped on home plate 16-for-35 with three doubles, seven homers and 16 RBIs against the Orioles this season.
Back-to-back two-out walks in the first were followed by Wells’ second strikeout, with Ji-Man Choi chasing an 89 mph fastball above the zone.
“Just go back to what I’ve been doing,” Wells said. “Gather my thoughts and try not to really think about the situation. Just go out there and pitch and get ahead and try to get a quick out, get back in the dugout as quick as I can and get the guys back out there to swing it.”
With 24 pitches already under his belt, Wells allowed a leadoff single to Mejía in the second and Joey Wendle’s go-ahead triple. Third baseman Domingo Leyba leaped to field Arozarena’s chopper and threw out Wendle at the plate, and Valaika homered on Michael Wacha’s first pitch of the third inning for a 2-2 tie.
Valaika’s last home run was May 5 in Seattle during John Means’ no-hitter. The team’s last home run was Friday.
Mountcastle hadn’t homered this month until swinging at Wacha’s initial pitch in the fourth, a 92 mph fastball, and carrying it to right-center field for a 3-2 lead. He had two hits on the trip before today and produced a homer and RBI single on two pitches.
“It feels like barrels have been tough to find as of late,” Mountcastle said, “but today I felt good at the plate and hopefully I can keep it going moving forward.”
Choi also struck out to end the third and strand a runner, the bat flying out of his hands. Wander Franco reached on shortstop Ramón Urías’ fielding error and Mountcastle was charged with an error after failing to snag Wells’ pickoff throw.
A mistake he atoned for the following inning.
Choi ran the count full against Fry with two outs in the eighth, struck out swinging and again lost his grip on the bat.
The Oriole began the game with consecutive doubles by Cedric Mullins and Austin Hays, a nice one-two punch atop the order. Mullins also singled in the third inning for his seventh hit in five games with an at-bat on the road trip.
The early damage control by Wells grew into an impressive roll. He retired nine of 10 batters after Wendle’s triple, the only interruption the Urías error. But Arozarena struck again, becoming the 2021 version of Randal Grichuk and other division tormentors.
“Third inning onwards, I felt a lot better, and instead of trying to nibble around the plate, I just went out there and I attacked the zone like I normally do and haven’t been doing lately,” Wells said. “Knowing that my stuff can play here gives me confidence going into my next appearance.”
Meadows singled and Austin Wynns became 7-for-13 throwing out runners attempting to steal. Wynns sustained a cut on his left cheek from Arozarena’s backswing in the seventh, but stayed in the game.
Wells got within an out of becoming the third starter in four games to complete the sixth inning. Instead, the Orioles had four starters in a row work five innings for the first time this season.
“He looked great,” Mountcastle said. “His fastball was really playing well, especially two strikes. He was throwing strikes and getting early outs and it was definitely a big performance by him.”
Mancini had two more hits and lined back to Wacha, who spun and doubled off Hays in the first inning. He’s 8-for-21 in the last five games.
Colin McHugh loaded the bases with two outs in the eighth on Mancini’s single, a walk to Mountcastle and a pitch that hit DJ Stewart on the left foot. Urías flied out.
A brutal finish was near.
“It was tough,” Mountcastle said. “We wanted to win both road series. But it’s the game of baseball, you’re going to have tough losses like that, but we’re going to keep going forward and hopefully win this next home series.”
Note: Triple-A Norfolk’s J.C. Escarra homered in Game 1 of a doubleheader at Gwinnett. Konner Wade allowed one run and four hits in six innings in a 2-1 win that snapped the Tides’ eight-game losing streak. Dusten Knight allowed three hits in the ninth but recorded the save.