The Orioles returned home from a 5-3 road trip to face AL East rival and fellow Wild Card contender, Tampa Bay, Tuesday night at Camden Yards. The suddenly resurgent O’s rotation carried the load in the five wins, and Wei-Yin Chen would be asked to do the same at home. He delivered, carrying as much of the load as he could, and giving his offense a chance to win the game. The bats, however, were non compliant.
Chen (L, 8-6) delivered the Orioles seventh consecutive quality start, giving up 3 runs on just 4 hits through 6.2 innings. He struck out 5 and walked 3. Chen threw 73 of his 109 pitches for strikes — a terrific ratio. In reality, Chen made two major mistakes in the game. One was an 82 MPH, thigh-high, hanging slider that Brooks Conrad tore into in the fifth, sending it over the left field fence for a two-run homer. The other wasn’t a pitch at all, but rather a balk.
After walking B.J. Upton to start the sixth, Chen was called for a balk for moving his hand while staring in for a sign from Matt Wieters. Upton moved to second with no one out. Rays manager Joe Maddon, knowing that runs were at a premium in the pitcher’s duel, had Ben Zobrist drop a sacrifice bunt, a wise move considering the Orioles had reached base exactly two times all night up until that point. Upton would score on a bloop, broken-bat single to right by Jeff Keppinger, making it 3-1 Tampa Bay.
The Orioles could muster almost nothing against Rays’ starter and 2011 AL Rookie of the Year Jeremy Hellickson (W, 5-6). Hellickson changed speeds and location all night, keeping O’s batters off balance and ineffective. The lone exception came in the Orioles fourth. With two outs, Adam Jones blasted a 1-1 fastball into the visitors bullpen in deep left center, initially giving the Orioles a 1-0 lead. For Jones, it was home run number 23, and RBI number 51.
Hellickson was lifted with one out in the seventh, having given up just the 1 run on 3 hits. He struck out 4, and didn’t walk a batter. Rays relievers Jake McGee, Joel Peralta, and Fernando Rodney combined for 2.2 innings of no-hit, shutout innings. The O’s made things interesting against Rodney in the ninth, as JJ Hardy and Jim Thome were issued back-to-back, one-out walks. The winning run strode to the plate twice in the ninth. Rodney struck out Jones. He did the same to Wieters, to end it, and picked up his 28th save.
The Orioles and Rays will meet again Wednesday night at Camden Yards at 7:05. Miguel Gonzalez (2-1, 2.61) has been wonderful for the Orioles. He will have to continue to be, as he goes against Rays ace David Price (13-4, 2.64).
- Chen didn’t allow a hit until there were two outs in the fourth. He was very good yet again, and deserved better fates.
- The defense was solid, with Chris Davis and Jones contributing diving catches in the outfield.
- Forget that he hadn’t won a game since mid May. When he’s on his game, the 25-year old Hellickson can be as good as anyone. The Birds didn’t have a whole lot of opportunities, but did get one in the sixth, and it just shows how poorly this team does at situational hitting, and hitting with runners in scoring position. Nick Markakis hit a one-out double. The next batter, JJ Hardy, bounced out to third, which is about the last place you’d want to hit a ball in that situation. Jim Thome followed that up with a ground out to first. Markakis never moved another inch after the double.
- Dating back to Sunday’s game in Cleveland, Chris Davis has now struck out in seven consecutive at bats.
- The Orioles struck out 10 times. They drew just 2 walks.
- 17,592 at Camden Yards is a bit light for two division rivals who are also fighting one-another for a Wild Card spot. Of course, that could be an attendance figure for an entire series in Tampa.