Make no mistake. The Tampa Bay Rays are a good baseball team. A REALLY good baseball team, with great starting pitching and a terrific bullpen. Lots of folks picked the Rays to go to the World Series this season. They have a terrific manager, excellent young stars, and solid veterans. And, they’ve been here before, having earned playoff berths in three of the last four years, and an American League pennant in 2008. Coming in to the series with the Orioles that ended Wednesday, they’d tightened the race in the AL East, and were just one game behind the Orioles, and two behind the first place Yankees. They’d done so by getting hot in September, with a 6-2 record. The Tampa Bay Rays are formidable. They come to play, and they can beat anyone. Anyone, except—for the past three days—the Baltimore Orioles.
And Wednesday’s 3-2 win wasn’t just ANY win. This was a victory Orioles Nation has been waiting 14 years for. This was the Ding-Dong win, the one that killed the witch. It was win number 81 for the 2012 Orioles, the one that clinches the Orioles’ first non losing record since 1997. If you’re going to slay that kind of dragon…if the monkey you’re chasing from your back is King Kong…you should probably do it with a 14-inning, walk off win, delivered by the representative of the future of the franchise. And so, the Orioles did.
Yes, being Manny Machado is good. The 20 year old once (and future?) shortstop played a starring role in Tuesday night’s walk off win, both in the field and at the plate. Wednesday would be similar, though it certainly didn’t start out that way. In his first at-bat, after Chris Davis doubled in the second, he struck out swinging. At-bat number two can following a walk to Adam Jones and a Davis single. With one out, Manny hit into a 4-6-3 double play. In the seventh, Manny led off by reaching on an error. Taylor Teagarden would chase him home, but we’ll get to that…
More on Manny: In the eighth, Lew Ford led off with a hit. One out later, Davis reached again on a single to right. Endy Chavez came on to run for Davis, and Manny stepped in with runners on first and third. But after falling behind Manny 2-0, reliever Joel Paralta got nasty in a hurry, throwing three straight stikes to set the kid down, again leaving runners on.
On to the tenth. With two outs, Chavez picked up a hit. But Tampa closer Fernando Rodney, one of the game’s very best, got Manny on a force out. In the thirteenth inning, Manny came up second. After Chavez walked, Manny dropped a nice sac bunt, and wound up on first on a throwing error by Rays pitcher Chris Archer (L, 0-3). Mark Reynolds followed that with a bloop hit, and the Orioles loaded the bases with no one out. But in one of the most frustrating series of at-bats this year, the O’s simply refused to take what the Rays nearly insisted on giving them.
Rays manager Joe Maddon pulled one of his outfielders, replacing Sam Fuld with Reid Bignac, a fifth infielder. Robert Andino stepped up, and hit directly into the new defense. Second baseman Elliot Johnson fired to Catcher Jose Molina for the force on Chavez. One out, but the bases were still loaded.
Matt Wieters pinch-hit for Teagarden, whose hit in the seventh SHOULD’VE been the game winner, but for Teagarden himself. But, I promise, we’ll get to that…
Archer’s first three pitches to Wieters were all well off their mark. But just when it looked like the Rays would walk in the walk-off, Archer started pitching again: Called strike one…called strike two…foul ball. Then, on the at-bat’s seventh pitch, an elevated, 93 MPH fastball (just what Wieters needed for a game-winning sac fly, really), Archer got Wieters swinging. Next, Tuesday night’s other hero, Nate McLouth, struck out swinging. From bases loaded and none out in the bottom of the thirteenth tied at 2, the Orioles could score no runs.
In the bottom of the fourteenth, JJ Hardy and Lew Ford went two-up, two down. Then, Adam Jones drew a walk. Endy Chavez singled to left, and up stepped the kid. Manny Machado, with the winning run on second, was 0/5 on the day with 6 runners left on base. He had played a nice third base, but offensively, he’d seemed overmatched all day by four different Rays pitchers.
Like he did with Wieters the inning before, Archer started Manny off with three straight balls. Pitch number four was out of the strike zone, too. But Manny took a hack at the 91 MPH fastball up and in anyway. He blooped it down the left field line, just out of the reach of Matt Joyce on the dive. Jones flew around third with the winning run, and the Orioles had their second walk-off win in a row, and the historic 81st win in the 2012 season.
If all goes well, there will never again be a string of 14 straight losing seasons. In a perfect world, there won’t be one more losing season—not one more—for at least another 14. If so, Manny’s fourteenth inning swing, to snap to 14 straight losing seasons, will be an image that will go down in the annals of team lore. Think Brooks leaping into the arms of Dave McNally after the final out of the ’66 World Series. Think Earl Weaver’s sendoff after the final game of ’82. Think Eddie Murray blasting two homers off the scoreboard at Veteran’s Stadium in Philadelphia to help clinch the ’83 Series. Think about the goodbye party thrown by the Orioles—similar to none previous, but so often duplicated now—to bid farewell to Memorial Stadium. Think of a record-setting night in September, 1995, when the city of Baltimore invited the world to look in as she honored her favorite son and begged him to take a victory lap for breaking The Unbreakable Record.
While goal number one–or should we say, FAN’S goal number one—has been achieved, O’s goal number one…Buck’s goal number one…is still being chased. The Orioles will continue that chase out west, beginning with a crucial, three-game series in Oakland starting Friday night. For the Orioles, it’ll be Joe Saunders (8-11, 4.22/2-1, 4.24) on the mound. Oakland counters with Tommy Milone (12-10, 3.90). First pitch is 10:05.
- Starter Wei Yin Chen: 7.1 IP, 8H (only 1 of which was hit hard), 2ER, 1BB, 7K. He deserved far, far better.
- The bullpen was spectacular. Darren O’Day, Luis Ayala, Jim Johnson, Tommy Hunter, Brian Matusz, and finally, Randy Wolf (W, 5-10, 5.69/2-0, 5.68) combined to go 6.2 innings, 0R, 4H, 9K, 1BB. As it would happen, Wolf, the winning pitcher in a 14 inning game, threw just 4 pitches.
- Welcome back to Baltimore, Endy Chavez: 2/2, 1BB, 1SB.
- Chris Davis (the guy Chavez entered for): 3/4, 1 2b.
- Taylor Teagarden’s big, 2-run double in the seventh with one out and two on was another clutch hit from the O’s backup catcher. It put the Orioles on top 2-1, and may have won the game but for…
- …A passed ball by Taylor Teagarden. It was big. With Desmond Jennings on first, it allowed him to get to second. Jennings then stole third, and scored on Ben Zobrist’s 38-foot screamer down the third base line. That tied the game, and got the hook for Chen.
- Orioles: 3/14 with RISP, 16 left on.
- The 1-4 spots in the Orioles lineup: combined 3/25, 1R, 3BB, 8K, 12 LOB.