The Orioles picked up seven scoreless innings from starter Wei-Yin Chen Saturday night in Tampa, and the offense chipped in, too, en route to a 4-0 shutout of the Rays.
Chen (W, 10-6) followed up his record-setting, 12 strikeout performance vs. Oakland July 29th by giving up just five hits and one walk. He pitched to contact in this one, striking out just four through seven.
The bats came to life with runners in scoring position, snapping an 0-22 drought over the past two games, in the first. Leadoff man Nick Markakis worked Rays starter Jeremy Hellickson (L, 6-7) for a nine-pitch walk to start the game. Hellickson came back to strikeout both JJ Hardy and Chris Davis. Adam Jones moves Markakis up to second with a hit to center, bringing up Matt Wieters.
Despite two hits, Wieters was one of the big culprits in stranding runners in Friday night’s frustrating, 2-0 loss in Tampa. He left three men aboard, including two in the first inning. Facing a similar situation Saturday, he delivered a big, two-out RBI single to right, which moved Jones to third and gave the O’s a 1-0 lead.
Not satisfied at first, Wieters, who came into play Saturday with two career stolen bases, made it three, swiping second. Both he and Jones were stranded, though, when Wilson Betemit grounded out for out number three. The birds scored just once, but they snapped the dreadful 0-22, and made Hellickson work hard, throwing 31 pitches in the opening frame.
The Orioles’ second opened with the newest Oriole, and latest Dan Duquette salvage yard special, Nate McLouth, blasting a double of the right center field wall. Up stepped Mark Reynolds, whose 29th birthday the day before was “celebrated” with an 0-4, three strikeout, 6 left on performance. He would leave McLouth on, as well, striking out on six pitches. Hellickson then whiffed Omar Quintanilla, sending Markakis to the batter’s box.
This time, instead of a nine-pitch at-bat, Markakis hammered Hellickson’s second pitch into center for another clutch, two out RBI hit.
The O’s third was maddeningly frustrating. Davis started things with a single, but was whipped out on a double play grounder by Jones. With two outs, Wieters walked. With Betemit batting, the slow-footed O’s catcher stole his second base of the night, officially doubling his prior career total in one night. Betemit delivered another O’s hit with a runner in scoring position, a single to right. But Rays right fielder Sam Fuld made a strong throw to the plate, and catcher Jose Molina had plenty of time to apply the tag on the sliding Wieters, for out number three. So, in the third, the Orioles sent four men to the plate. They picked up two hits, a walk, and a stolen base, and they could not score.
With Chen cruising along and in the midst of retiring seven in a row, the Orioles came up in the top of the fourth and delivered the knockout blow. It started with a one-out free pass to Reynolds. One out later, Markakis walked again. The Hardy got into the mix with an infield hit, loading the bases for Davis.
Hellickson’s first pitch to the Orioles’ DH was a 77 MPH curve that, while it didn’t exactly hang, also didn’t exactly show much bite. Davis was able to go down and swat a line drive single to right, plating Reynolds and Markakis for a 4-0 lead.
The rest would be up to Chen, who was certainly up to the task. He hit a bump in the fourth, allowing back-to-back, one-out hits to Ben Zobrist and Jeff Keppinger. But he slammed the door, striking out Carlos Pena, and getting Sean Rodriguez to foul out to Wieters.
Buck Showalter pulled Chen after the seventh, and after the O’s lefty had thrown exactly 100 pitches. Pedro Strop came on in the eighth and gave up a walk and a hit, but no runs. Jim Johnson pitched a 1-2-3 ninth, highlighted by one of the best plays of the year. Rays pinch hitter Will Rhymes hit an artificial-surface bouncer that chopped over Johnson, who deflected it slightly. It looked as if the ball was headed into center all the way, until Hardy lunged after it to his left, gloved it, did a 360 spin, and fired to first, just in time to nail Rhymes.
The Orioles and Rays wrap up their weekend series Sunday at 1:40, and it will not be easy for the Orioles. David Price (14-4, 2.64) goes for the Rays. The last time the birds saw him was July 25th, with Price striking out 10 in 7 innings, and giving up just 1 earned run. The O’s counter with Miguel Gonzalez (3-2, 4.46), who pitched for the Orioles that day, giving up 7 hits and 7 earned runs in 2.2 innings.
- The Orioles were 5-9 with RiSP.
- The 1, 2, and 3 sports in the batting order (Markakis, Hardy, and Davis) were a combined 5-13 with 2 walks, 2 runs, and 3 walks.
- Nate McLouth’s Orioles debut: 2-4 with 1 double and a run scored.
- Chen has stepped up his game big time in a large way sing Jason Hammel’s injury, and actually maybe even a little before. Hammel went down on July 13th. Chen, since July 14th, is 3-1 in five starts. He’s allowed just 7 earned runs on 20 hits and 11 walks in 32.1 innings. His ERA in those 5 outings? 1.95.
- The 8 and 9 hitters in the lineup (Reynolds and Quintanilla) were a combined 0-7 with a walk and a run scored. Reynolds fanned three more times, Quintanilla struck out twice. Both left a pair of runners on.