I’m not one for “must win” narratives, unless of course we are talking about literal must wins like elimination games.
A baseball team plays 162 games. The best teams will lose 60 of them. Maybe even three or four in a row. Good teams can have some rough periods that are quickly forgotten after a strong series.
So I’m not going to call a July game against the Orioles a must win.
And yet....it felt really important to win the second game of this double header after watching the offense snooze through game one.
Why? Because the key to getting to the post season is dominating the bad teams, of which Baltimore is one. After winning game one of this series in very convincing style, it would feel like a letdown to settle for a series split. Winning the nightcap was the only road to winning the series.
A pitching duel, and a fast moving one at that, seemed to be a likely. Means, the Orioles only All-Star, has been quietly effective this year, not something one often can say about an Orioles starter. Even when they’ve fielded strong teams in recent years they have been all offense and bullpen. But Means came in to the game with a 2.5 ERA. A quick look at his peripherals, however — a 3.93 FIP and 5.15 xFIP — suggested some regression could be coming. And come it did.
The Rays got out to a two run lead when Avisail Garcia doubled and Mike Brosseau hit a fly that kept traveling until it cleared the left-centerfield fence. Brosseau, by the way, came into the game with an OPS of 1.061, just as we all predicted.
Morton cruised through the first two innings before giving up a third inning double to the pesky Stevie Wilkerson (he of the first game home run). Wilkerson moved to third on a ground out. He got a deep-ish but not hard -hit fly ball from Jonathan Villar that looked like an easy end to the threat, but Pham misjudged the ball and calamity nearly ensued. Tommy self-corrected however and nabbed the fly for the third out.
The top of the fourth inning started off with a very deep home run from Yandy Diaz to make the score 3-0.
The Orioles threatened in the bottom of the fourth. Chance Cisco blooped one into no- man’s land (70mph exit velocity). Then things went downhill, as Renato Nunez grounded hard just beyond Adames’ reach to put runners on the corners. That brought up Chris Davis with two on and two out. Morton walked him, probably the only false move Morton made all day. That brought up pesky Stevie Wilkerson, who of course singled home two runs, on a play that Avisail Garcia maybe could have gotten. The inning ended with a good play by Wendle on a deep grounder.
Stevie Wilkerson is obviously a graduate of the Joey Rickard School of Torturing the #Rays— Steve Carney (@stevecarney) July 14, 2019
Orioles continued to put on pressure in the fifth, as Hanser Alberto hit an infield single and yet another bloop fell in for the Orioles. For a last place team they seem to get a lot of love from the baseball gods. Charlies f-ing Morton may bend, but he does not break and he retired the next three batters (I had my eyes closed and the sound off so I can’t tell you how but I believe at least one strike out was involved).
The top of the sixth opened with a Travis d’Arnaud double; he moved to third on a Yandy Diaz ground out. Avisail Garcia delivered with a run-scoring single to make the score 4-2. And Nate Lowe put a bit more distance between the teams, hitting a sweet line drive out of the park on what BA said was a mistake breaking ball. This go-round Lowe has definitely had a chance to show Rays fans the power that has helped propel him through the system.
The Rays weren’t done scoring. With David Hess on in relief, Wendle was hit by a pitch and Tommy Pham drilled a home run to center field. Rays up 8-2. Both d’Arnaud and Diaz followed with hits, and d’Arnaud scored on a sac fly, 9-2.
With a seven run lead, Cash took Morton out after six innings. He had thrown 92 pitches, walking one, striking out six, and allowing two runs on six hits. Four of the six hits against him had exit velocities below 90; most of the contact off of him was weak.
The Orioles were probably glad to see him go; the second batter facing Jake Faria in the seventh, Hanser Alberto, homered just over the center field fence. Heredia made a stab at catching the ball but failed (does KK get that?) 9-3. Faria retired the other three batters he faced, however.
Faria was back for the eighth, and he promptly walked the lead off batter. Chance Sisco grounded to Wendle who went to Adames at second for the force. Adames pivoted to complete the double play; his throw was low but still should have been scooped by Nate Lowe at first. Scooping bad throws in the dirt is in fact the job description for a first baseman.
Faria’s night was over and Diego Castillo took the mound, returning from his brief IL stint. He gave up a ground ball single before striking out Chris Davis on a pitch in the dirt. That brought up Pesky Stevie Wilkerson poised to make this a real game. But he wouldn’t deliver this time, grounding out on a Castillo 100mph fastball.
The Rays hitters were at it again in the ninth. Nate Lowe and Mike Brosseau each hit his second home run of the evening, Lowe with a man on base, to give the Rays a 12-3 lead. That made it a six home run night for the Rays. Ozzie Timmons’ arms must be burning.
So all the Rays needed to close it out was someone to come in and get three outs. Adam Kolarek got the call and his second pitch was driven for a double by Rio Ruiz. Jonathan Villar drove him in with an RBI single. But the great thing about having a nine run lead is that you don’t panic when it becomes a mere eight run lead. Kolarek did indeed get the needed three outs and the Rays had split the double header.
The Orioles just traded tomorrow’s announced starter, Andrew Cashner, to the Red Sox. Since they had seven relievers take the mound today, it’s not clear how they will find their way to 27 outs tomorrow, which bodes well for a Rays getaway day victory (with the usual caveats that you can never predict baseball).