During the weekend’s first two games here in Tampa Bay, the Orioles' offense seemingly went vacationing in Florida – not even sending a postcard to acknowledge their absence.
But in Sunday’s series finale against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field, Baltimore’s bats made it clear they were back at work.
After scoring just one run in their previous 23 innings, the Orioles jumped on Rays left-hander Matt Moore on their way to a 10-7 win over Tampa Bay, snapping their five-game losing streak to the Rays and avoiding a three-game sweep at Tropicana Field in front of an announced crowd of 19,921.
After a one-day stay in fourth place in the AL East, the Orioles (35-28) returned to Baltimore ahead of Tampa Bay in the division race by a ½-game margin.
"It's just important to get a win,” said catcher Matt Wieters, one of the five Orioles with multiple hits. “It doesn't matter how it came today. After losing the first two here, you need to come out here and salvage one and hopefully take one from these guys here. They've been playing pretty well lately."
The Orioles had been held to one run and six hits (and only one extra-base hit) over the first two games of the series – stymied by the Rays’ trademark strong pitching – but on Sunday, they set a season high with eight extra-base hits and tied season highs in runs and doubles (seven) in their 16-hit attack.
"When you figure it out, let me know,” manager Buck Showalter said of the Orioles rebounding from their offensive struggles. “Guys are grinding it. They're frustrated. Everybody looks for that perfection of consistency, which is hard to find. We're facing really good pitching. We faced a really good pitcher again today and we were able to string some things together.”
They battered Moore (8-2) for nine runs on 12 hits – both career highs – over five innings, sitting on his off-speed deliveries and shooting them down the lines and into the outfield gaps.
Meanwhile, Orioles right-hander Chris Tillman (6-2) recorded his eighth quality start in 13 outings this season, holding Tampa Bay to three runs – two earned – over six innings, striking out five and walking one. Tillman continued his string of success away from Baltimore, improving his road record to 5-0 with a 2.41 ERA. Tillman has not allowed more than three runs in any of his past 11 starts away from Camden Yards, the longest active streak in the majors.
And despite a late-inning Rays rally that brought the tying run to the plate with two outs in the ninth, the Orioles were able to complete their six-game road trip to Houston and Tampa Bay with a 3-3 mark.
The Orioles rattled off three more doubles in the second, including back-to-back run-scoring doubles by Machado and Hardy. Machado’s double, an opposite-field rocket to right on a hit-and-run play, was his majors-leading 27th of the season.
Baltimore received production throughout the lineup. No. 9 hitter Alexi Casilla’s RBI single with the bases loaded scored Wieters and led to another run when a throw to the plate escaped. Nick Markakis’ sacrifice fly to right plated Steve Pearce, who tied a season high with three hits, to give the Orioles an 8-1 lead after three innings.
Jones hit his 12th homer of the season – a mammoth solo shot to left-center field that was an estimated 457 feet, the longest of his career – in the fourth inning.
“Takes a little load off our backs,” Hardy said. “We went out there, we were just being aggressive. We were just trying to swing the bat. We got some hits. It felt good. [Moore’s] a great pitcher, very tough. I don’t know if he had his best stuff today or not. We came out swinging the bat. I know he was throwing a lot of strikes.”
Nine of the Orioles’ 12 hits against Moore came on off-speed pitches – six off changeups and three off curveballs. In winning his first eight decisions of the season, Moore’s off-speed pitches had been dominant. Heading into the day, opponents were hitting just .142 against Moore’s changeup and curveball. On Sunday, the Orioles were 9-for-16 against those pitches.
“Two runs in the first, ‘OK, our guys have that,’” Moore said of falling behind. “Five runs is a whole new ballgame. That’s a big number, especially against a guy like Tillman and what their bullpen looks like late in games.”
Showalter said he was proud of the way Tillman didn’t let the early lead affect the way he attacked the Tampa Bay lineup. He was still able to mix his pitches well to keep the Rays off balance.
"It's important,” Tillman said. “I struggled with that when I was younger. The guys go out there and put up some runs and you think you can just cruise, but that's not the case. You've got to go out there and pitch as if it's a 0-0 ballgame. It's one of the learning curves in this game. You've got to go out there no matter what and pitch your butt off."
Despite Tillman’s strong effort, the Rays were able to rebound against the Orioles' bullpen late, making it a seven-run game heading into the bottom of the eighth interesting.
After Orioles reliever Darren O’Day struck out the side in the seventh, Tampa Bay rallied late with three runs in the eighth off left-hander Brian Matusz, capped by a two-run homer by light-hitting lefty Sam Fuld.
Tommy Hunter stranded two base runners in the eighth, striking out Desmond Jennings to end the inning but put two on with two outs in the ninth. Johnson then allowed an RBI single to Jose Lobaton to make it a 10-7 game before getting the final out.
The Rays (34-28) brought the tying run to the plate with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, but closer Jim Johnson induced a game-ending pop-up from Kelly Johnson with two on to seal his 21st save of the season.
“The American League East is tough,” Showalter said. “You've got to play nine innings, which our guys did. They kept adding on, trying to. It's hard in the major leagues. Talented hitters and things are going to happen. We've had games at home where nobody dreamed that we'd get the tying run to the plate, but we did. You've got to keep competing.”