TOP 20 ORIOLE GAMES OF 2014: GAME #11

12. Baltimore Orioles at Tampa Bay Rays (Sunday, September 7 – 1:40 pm – 7-5)
Box Score

The Orioles 2013 season effectively ended during a September trip to Tropicana field.  The Orioles arrived in Tampa two games behind the 1st and 2nd wild card teams and with a shot at making up direct ground on the Rays who held one of the two American League wild card spots.  When they left Tampa four days later, the Birds were five back of the second wild card spot with only six games left to play, had lost a painful 18-inning game and to add salt to their wounds, lost Manny Machado for the rest of the season (and beyond) in the process.   It was as painful as one series can get.

When the O’s arrived in Tampa this past September for a 3-game series with the Rays, things were a bit different.  With a 9.5 game division lead in the AL East, a good showing in Tampa was hardly a necessity.  Still – given what occurred 12-months earlier – it was a tad of an annoyance to watch the Rays capitalize on all opportunities in route to taking the first two games of the series.

On September 7th, the O’s set out to avoid the sweep.  For a while, the odds of that happening did not look good.

Starting pitcher Bud Norris was hit hard from the get-go.  Bud got away with two deep fly balls in the first before surrendering back-to-back solo homeruns to James Loney and Evan Longoria.  There were runners on nearly every inning and the Rays had little trouble squaring up on Norris’ offerings.  In the 5th inning, Alejandro De Aza and David Lough collided on a ball in left-center, allowing David De Jesus to score on an inside the park homerun.  Meanwhile, the O’s struggled to get anything going off of Jeremy Hellickson.  A sweep seemed likely, if not inevitable.

In the 6th, Nelson Cruz got the O’s on the board with a two-run homerun that followed a David Lough single.  The O’s chased Hellickson from the game and loaded the bases with one out, but were unable to add on.  The Rays immediately regained the momentum in the bottom of the inning courtesy of a Kevin Kiermaier leadoff solo shot off of Norris.

Darren O’Day got into a jam in the 8th which led to one of the more bizarre relief appearances of this season or any season for that matter.

Joe Saunders was summoned from the bullpen with Ben Zobrist at the plate, one out, and runners on 2nd and 3rd.  Saunders intentionally walked Zobrist to get to lefty David DeJesus.  Joe Maddon predictably went to his bench and brought in right-handed batter Wil Myers.  Buck fired back by immediately going to the mound and removing Saunders in favor of righty Tommy Hunter.  An amused Saunders left the mound after a night’s work that consisted of one four pitch intentional walk. 

Hunter induced a first pitch groundball double play to keep the O’s within striking distance.

In taking the first two games of the series, the Rays twice used shutdown reliever/de-facto closer Jake McGee, which made him unavailable for the final game of the series.  Instead the Rays called on Joel Peralta to close it out in the 9th.  Peralta got himself in trouble right away with singles to Ryan Flaherty, Jimmy Paredes (pinch hitting for Jonathan Schoop), and Adam Jones (pinch hitting for Alejandro De Aza).  Peralta got Delmon Young swinging before allowing a go-ahead, bases clearing triple to Cruz.  Just like that, the O’s had a 5-4 lead.

While the Orioles put together a string of impressive hits to take the lead in the top half of the inning, the Rays went a different route in tying the game in the bottom half.  Tampa’s inning went error (runner reaches first), single, sacrifice bunt, and groundout (run scores) off of Baltimore closer Zach Britton to tie the game at 5-5.

The Rays had found a way to continue the game but they couldn’t put it away.  Neither could the Orioles.  Or perhaps they were just biding their time to give Cruz – with five runs batted in already on the day – another chance at the plate.  Sure enough, when Cruz batted after a Nick Hundley walk in the 11th, he belted the first pitch he saw over the wall for a go-ahead two run blast.  It was Cruz’s seventh RBI of the day as he had driven in all seven of the O’s runs.

Unlike Tampa who had little else to call on with their closer unavailable, the O’s had the luxury of summoning the nearly unhittable Andrew Miller with Zach Britton already out of the game.  Miller did his job – per usual – striking out the side to give the O’s the somewhat unlikely 7-5 victory.

In the grand scheme of things, this one win did not have a huge impact on the 2014 season.  The O’s were heading to the playoffs regardless.  However, it is not every day that a team has a ninth inning comeback, avoids a sweep, and sees one of its star players knocks in all seven of the team’s runs.