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  • Apr

    Just another instant classic - Rays 8 Orioles 7

    Written by Mike Laws

    Another instant classic, but O's come up short

    Rays - 8
    Orioles - 7


    Ho, hum. Another day, another pulse-quickening, edge-of-your-seat late-inning thrill ride, complete with clutch-hitting heroics, heartrending relief-pitching meltdowns and too many lead changes to count. It’s the kind of baseball that’s fast becoming as synonymous with the Charm City as Bertha’s Mussels and, well, “Stop Snitchin’.” It’s also — given the Orioles’ 2012 success in such contests — a big part of what made last year so much fun to be a part of.


    Only thing is, it ain’t 2012 anymore. And all those declaiming that the Birds were “lucky” last year, that all those one-run and extra-inning wins would regress to some mean — well, consider tonight a slab of red meat for those detractors.


    So, then, on to the bullet points:


    • For the second straight game, Chris Davis delivered in the clutch, the only difference being that in tonight’s affair he muscled his two-out, three-run shot the other way, on a line over the wall in left-center. If it wasn’t the no-doubt wallop with which he greeted Jake McGee on Opening Day at the Trop, it was still a showcase of Davis’s ridiculous strength; the pitch might actually have been ball four outside. (And being that he’s from Texas, I feel pretty safe predicting that the “Baseball Tonight” crew will work in the phrase “country strong,” in tonight’s broadcast.) He’d go on to extend his tear, belting a double to the wall in right in his next at-bat and, on his third trip, ripping a two-out RBI single to right. (And, by the way, he still wasn’t done; read on …)


    • Did I mention that Davis’s homer came in the top of the first? That seems especially important given that starter Wei-Yin Chen didn’t look particularly sharp out of the gate — he had some early trouble keeping the ball down and locating his off-speed and breaking pitches. But taking the hill with a three-run cushion must have a calming effect akin to a handful of Xanax; in each of the first three innings, Chen was able to execute a quality pitch, down in the zone, to induce inning-killing double-play groundouts. That’s what’s known as trusting your defense. From there Chen appeared to regain the Madduxesque command that made him such a revelation last season, racking up four K’s over his final two and two-thirds innings of work, while walking not a soul. …


    • … Still, the Rays had cut a 4-0 deficit to 4-1 in their half of the sixth, courtesy of a Desmond Jennings double and Ben Zobrist RBI single, chasing Chen from the ballgame. Luis Ayala entered to try to record the inning’s final out and preserve the lead — and promptly gave up a smash single to Evan Longoria and, crushingly, a three-run homer to DH Shelley Duncan. (Both knocks, incidentally, came on hanging sliders.) 4-4 with six in the books (with two of those runs charged to Chen) …


    • … meaning that the O’s would have to prove their resilience once again. On Opening Day they’d conceded the lead in the sixth, only to retake it immediately in the seventh. New day, same story. After Nolan Reimold turned in a terrific at-bat with one away, spoiling some good “out” pitches from Rays starter Jeremy Hellickson and eventually working a walk, Brian Roberts singled up the middle, setting the table for Nate McLouth to pick up right where he left off last postseason. McLouth promptly laced a base hit to right — where for some reason über-utility man Zobrist (who finished last season at shortstop) is now playing. Zobrist has a cannon; the throw beat Reimold by a good fifteen feet; but it tailed, up the third-base line; and Reimold astutely slid around the sweep-tag from catcher Jose Lobaton. 5-4 O’s …


    •  … but not for long. Lending further credence to critics who claim he’s just not cut out for high-pressure situations involving divisional rivals, Pedro Strop recorded a quick out before allowing a surprising bunt single to Tampa left fielder Matt Joyce. Cue the wheels coming off. Another single, a (very) wild pitch, a sliced double and a bloop into shallow center off the bat of Zobrist, and suddenly the Rays had plated seven in the space of two innings, and now led 7-5, with, distressingly, five of those runs charged to the vaunted Baltimore bullpen.


    • ... But — again — enter that resilient offense, keyed — again — by Chris Davis, and (again!) with two down. In the eighth the O’s first baseman earned a hustle-double off a bloop down the left-field line that evaded Joyce’s reach, then came in to score (again, with commendable hustle) on yet another clutch single, this time from Matt Wieters. 7-6 Rays.


    • … And following a quick bottom half courtesy of Tommy Hunter, the O’s would tie it — never an easy feat against Fernando Rodney. But Reimold, again displaying almost impossible discipline at the dish, worked a leadoff walk, then came all the way around to score on a double slapped down the left-field line by Roberts …


    • … who, though bunted over to third by McLouth, wound up stranded there after a pair of meek groundouts …


    • … after which, in the Ray’s half of the ninth, Hunter promptly surrendered the sixth run charged to an Oriole reliever tonight — a walkoff bomb from Joyce. Game over. 8-7, Tampa Bay.


    THE TAKEAWAY: For the second consecutive ballgame, a disconcerting showing from the bullpen follows a sporting (if unspectacular) effort from an Oriole starter — and this time, it’s not something the never-say-die offense can overcome. Also, for all the runs scored with two out (13 of 14, now, by my count), the Orioles still aren’t manufacturing runs/playing situational ball very well …


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