As lightning flashed and thunder rolled, there was a crack of the bat added to the mix — an equally resounding sound before the skies above Oriole Park at Camden Yards opened and began pelting the field with rain.
The probability of this all coinciding — the rain on cue following a rare hit with a runner in scoring position — gave credence to the adage that anything can happen at the ballpark. On Sunday for the Orioles’ series finale with the Tampa Bay Rays, that took the form of Austin Hays’ two-out, two-run single to tie the game at 6 in the bottom of the ninth inning.
Ryan McKenna and Chris Owings crossed the plate. Hays rounded first. Then one more crack sounding from above rather than from the batter’s box sent the players tumbling toward the dugout and the grounds crew scrambling onto the field, tarp in tow.
And after 51 minutes, play resumed and promptly headed to extra innings, where the Orioles would up winning, 7-6, via Rougned Odor’s fielder’s choice that scored Adley Rutschman from third. It’s Baltimore’s third walk-off win in the past four days — the first time the Orioles have had such a stretch since 1974, according to Elias Sports Bureau.
It was all part of a most unusual Sunday at the park, featuring a first-inning injury to starting pitcher Spenser Watkins that forced Baltimore into an unexpected — and very undesirable — bullpen game. And it amounted to a series victory for the Orioles, taking two of three games after entering the series with a 15-game losing streak to Tampa Bay. It’s the Orioles’ (17-25) first series win against the Rays since sweeping a three-game set July 31 to Aug. 2, 2020.
“We’ve lost a lot of close games to these guys over the years, and a lot of us younger guys that are starting to get some more time now, we’re just continuing to fight,” Hays said. “We don’t want to lose those games anymore.”
In the 10th, Rutschman appeared primed to end the game himself. But his deep fly ball to right field died at the warning track. To begin the 11th, he stood at second as the automatic runner and took third via Owings’ bunt, bringing Odor to the plate.
Odor has a penchant for the dramatic. On Friday, his walk-off, two-run home run ended a 13-inning affair in style. Sunday’s knock traveled a lesser distance and took a defensive miscue to make it happen, sliding under Ji-Man Choi’s glove as he charged in from first base. They all count the same, though, resulting in a victory.
Ramón Urías and Odor drove in runs in the third inning, and Ryan Mountcastle launched a solo homer into the home bullpen beyond left-center field. Two errors from Rays fielders helped plate one more run in the seventh.
Then came the ninth, when Mountcastle led off with a single and Urías soon followed with a walk. Both were pinch-run for, and Hays soon scored both with his knock, setting up for the game-winning fielder’s choice.
“We don’t quit,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “Just proud of our effort. All our guys played to the end.”
An early departure for Watkins
The way Joey Krehbiel entered the game about four hours earlier in the top of the first inning was emblematic of the hasty nature — and extreme circumstances — that forced the first inning pitching change. The right-hander grabbed his glove and a Red Bull, slipped one on his hand and brought the other to his lips, as he made his way onto the field.
It was just about the worst-case scenario for the Orioles on Sunday, a get-away day before a road trip consisting of eight games in eight days against the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. The deeper right-hander Watkins could work, the better.
Instead, the line drive off Ji-Man Choi’s bat sailed at 105.9 mph and collided with Watkins’ forearm, sending the pitcher for a brief walk around the mound before he made his way into the dugout and down the stairs toward the training room. The initial X-rays were negative, the Orioles announced, and Watkins said he was “sore right now,” but it’s “too early to tell” whether he’ll be sidelined long term.
But the short-term implications left Baltimore’s bullpen in charge of recording 27 outs — and then six more in extra innings — and Tampa Bay held a four-run advantage by the time Baltimore got itself out of the first inning.
“I really didn’t know what we were going to do,” Hyde said.
The first three batters each singled off Watkins, and after Krehbiel recorded two outs, Isaac Paredes blasted a three-run homer. Krehbiel completed a career-high three innings, though, allowing just one more hit after the first inning. Those innings, while unspectacular, helped cover for a bullpen that still required five additional arms to close out the game — giving up just two additional runs.
Left-hander Cionel Pérez, especially, stranded five base runners across two scoreless innings in the 10th and 11th. When he bounded off the mound, Rutschman was the first to greet him, full of giddy excitement.
“They absolutely sucked it up,” Hyde said. “Pitching won us the game in a situation where it could’ve been ugly early, and they did a great job of just letting us hang around.”
Around the horn
Mountcastle left in the ninth inning due to heat-related body cramps, the Orioles announced. Hyde said Mountcastle said the cramps won’t lead to any absences going forward.
Kyle Stowers hit three home runs for Triple-A Norfolk on Sunday, finishing 3-for-5 with five RBIs. The three blasts bring his season total to nine, leveling him with Coby Mayo for the most in the organization.
Right-hander Grayson Rodriguez, the top pitching prospect in baseball, could be in line for a major league debut sooner rather than later following Watkins’ injury — and his own standout performances. Rodriguez completed six innings for the first time this season, throwing 86 pitches and striking out nine batters while allowing two runs on four hits for Triple-A Norfolk.
Monday, 7:05 p.m.
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