Starting pitcher Wei-Yin Chen #16 of the Baltimore Orioles throws to a Tampa Bay Rays batter during the first inning at Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
It took more than five hours, but Thursday afternoon the Baltimore Orioles finished sweeping the Tampa Bay Rays, ensuring a share of first place for the O's and a tough road to October for the Rays.
Winning a one-run game wasn't anything new for the Orioles; they're 26-7 in one-run games this season. And losing a one-run game wasn't anything new for the Rays; they're 20-26 in one-run games this season.
In the American League East this season, one-run success trumps run differential, and the season's far enough along that that's probably not going to change. The Orioles are probably going to earn a postseason berth, and the Rays probably will not.
Wednesday night, the Orioles won 3-2 on Nate McLouth's walk-off double in the bottom of the ninth.
Thursday, the Orioles won 3-2 on Manny Machado's two-out single in the bottom of the 14th.
Yes. It happened again.
The clubs matched zeroes until the fourth, when Jeff Keppinger plated Ben Zobrist with a sacrifice fly.
The Rays still led 1-0 in the seventh. Jeremy Hellickson had tossed six shutout innings and thrown only 93 pitches, but Joe Maddon replaced Hellickson with left-hander Wade Davis. And Davis got into trouble, all of his own making. First he made an error that allowed rookie Manny Machado to reach. Then, after striking out Mark Reynolds, he walked Robert Andino. And backup catcher Taylor Teagarden, filling in for Matt Wieters, drove a double to the wall in right-center, with Machado and Andino both scoring.
Teagarden giveth, though, and Teagarden taketh away. The Orioles were 63-0 this season when leading after seven innings and so of course they've blown very few leads. They blew this one. Still in the game, Baltimore starter Wei-Yin Chen walked Desmond Jennings to lead off the eighth. Jennings moved to second on Teagarden's passed ball, stole third during a strikeout, and finally scored the tying run on Ben Zobrist's swinging bunt.
And that's where it stayed -- Rays 2, O's 2 -- for quite some time.
In the 11th, Tampa Bay's Ryan Roberts fouled a pitch off his ankle and wasn't able to continue. With the Rays having already relinquished their designated-hitter slot when Evan Longoria shifted from DH to third base, manager Joe Maddon summoned rookie pitcher Chris Archer to replace Roberts at the plate. Archer struck out, then remained in the game to pitch; according to one source, Archer was the first pinch-hitter-turned-pitcher in the American League since 1979.
In the 13th, the Orioles almost broke through.They didn't, though, so we'll spare you most of the details. Suffice to say, the O's loaded the bases with nobody out, used a five-man infield for a couple of batters, and somehow escaped catastrophe, thanks largely to Archer -- making just his fourth appearance in the majors, and his first relief outing -- striking out Matt Wieters and Nate McLouth.
In the 14th, the Rays mounted a threat of their own. With Tommy Hunter pitching, Reid Brignac led off and struck out. Jeff Keppinger singled, and Archer struck out while "trying" to bunt. But Jose Molina kept the rally alive with a single up the middle, which brought Buck Showalter out of the dugout and -- with Matt Joyce due next -- left-hander Randy Wolf out of the bullpen. Wolf struck out Joyce looking to end the threat.
In the bottom of the 14th, the Orioles did break through, finally. It all happened with two outs. Archer walked Adam Jones, who went to second when Endy Chavez grounded a single through the left side. Which brought up Manny Machado, all 20 years and two months of him. Archer, in fourth inning of work, fell behind 3-and-0. His next pitch was up in the zone, and Machado lifted a soft liner to left field. Matt Joyce made a diving try for the catch, but came up just short while Jones sprinted home to win the game.
None of this is anything new for the Orioles. Thanks to Jim Johnson and others, they're now 64-0 when leading after seven innings. They're 27-7 in one-run games. They've won 13 straight extra-innings games. Eventually, the O's will lose a few one-run games in a row, or an extra-innings game, maybe even blow a few late-inning leads.
But it's starting to feel like none of that will happen until next spring. It just feels like one of those years.