This game had multiple personalities.
It was a blow-out, with Orioles ace John Means keeping the Rays bats at bay while Ryan Yarbrough struggled. That was certainly how it looked when the Orioles took a 5-0 lead into the fifth inning.
Then it was the Rays comeback and mounting lead, seemingly cruising to victory up 9-6 heading into the bottom of the ninth inning.
Then Pete Fairbanks scuffled, giving up a walk, two hits and a run, with the winning run at the plate, and it was a nailbiter.
Finally it was a 9-7 Rays victory. A satisfying and perhaps surprising come-from-behind win.
Let’s start with the Rays pitching.
Ryan Yarbrough hasn’t had a terrific year so far, although I would note that before the game started his FIP of 3.11 was a whole lot better than his ERA of 4.20. The Orioles got to him early, with solo shots in the first and second inning. In the second they mounted an even bigger threat, getting two men on with a single and a Willy Adames error. A nice fielder’s choice out at the plate could have been the play to contain the damage, but then Yarbrough walked Austin Hays to load the bases, and up came Trey Mancini yet again. This time it was a bases clearing double, and the Orioles were up 5-0. Mancini would hit a solo shot a few innings later; he accounted for five of the seven Orioles runs. Can we embrace his comeback story but still wish he wouldn’t beat up on our pitcher?
At any rate, Yarbrough was only charged with three earned runs (thanks to the Adames error), and he got the team through six innings, so I don’t mean to make it seem as though he were a train wreck. But we’ve all seen Yarbs when he is really on, and this isn’t it. Or maybe he just needs to walk Trey Mancini.
Since the season started, Ryan Yarbrough has had a tough time locating his change-up. Ideally he'd want it down, armside, and more in-zone pic.twitter.com/EqKar1YB0G— Andrea (@scoutgirlreport) May 20, 2021
The Rays were looking pretty helpless against John Means, who was cruising along with around 50 pitches in the fifth inning. But then he began to lose his command just a bit. He walked Mike Zunino, and then Mike Brosseau, who has had some great success (in a handful of games) against Means, ended the shutout with a two run homerun. The next batter, Randy Arozarena, followed suit with his own solo shot, and the Rays were within striking distance, down just 5-3.
Mancini’s second homerun made that 6-3, and it stayed that way until the top of the seventh inning. Kevin Kiermaier, who hit the ball well off Means, doubled and that led the Orioles to go to their bullpen, bringing in righty Adam Plutko. Plutko seems to be having a decent year, at least based on his ERA, but his pitches just weren’t working for him tonight. Pinch hitter Ji-Man Choi singled in Kiermaier, Arozarena hit his second home run of the game, and suddenly what had seemed to be a blowout was a tied game, 6-6.
The Rays broke open the tie in the next inning. The heroes of that three-run eighth were once again Ji-Man Choi, who led off with a single, and Randy Arozarena, who finished things off with a double, with a few walks and a wild pitch in between. In the middle of the eighth the Rays — the team that looked lucky to avoid a no-hit blowout a few hours earlier — were up by three, 9-6.
That just left it up to Diego Castillo and Pete Fairbanks to get six outs. They did, but not without some drama in the ninth. But the Rays have now won six in a row.
Tonight had a few heroes. First, Randy Arozarena lived up to our 2020 postseason expectations. Two home runs, a double, four RBI, and even a homerun robbing catch:
Hitting homers and taking ‘em away. All in a day’s work for Randy. pic.twitter.com/rBmzhaP4Fq— MLB (@MLB) May 20, 2021
Choi kept up his hot hitting, and Kiermaier had two key hits, even against Means, a tough lefty.
Also, hat tip to Ryan Thompson. Although he gave up a triple to Austin Hays (on a ball that Kiermaier misplayed a bit in center), he came back to strike out the next two batters, including Trey Mancini (for Mancini’s only out of the game). I’ll be honest, I really thought they should have walked Mancini, which would have avoided the unfavorable match-up and set up a possible double play. But striking him out was a pretty good choice, I’d say.