By Eduardo A. Encina
The Baltimore Sun
12:30 AM EDT, April 19, 2013
The sight of Matt Wieters' home-run trot ending in a frenetic pile at home plate conjured memories of the 16 straight extra-inning wins the Orioles orchestrated last season.
But Thursday night's 10-inning 10-6 win over the Tampa Bay Rays — which ended with the Orioles' first walk-off grand slam in 14 years — deserves its own spot in Orioles lore.
The Orioles' first extra-inning game of 2013 came nearly a year to the date that Wieters hit a grand slam to help the Orioles to their first extra-inning win last season, a 10-4 win against the White Sox in Chicago last April 16. His blast Thursday was the Orioles' first walk-off grand slam since Harold Baines' on May 4, 1999 against the White Sox.
“Any time you get a get a walk-off and get to celebrate with your teammates, it's a good day,” Wieters said. “It's a big game. They are all big games, but any time after a loss you're able to come back and get a win the next day just to sort of try and get the momentum back going on your side, I feel it's a big game.”
The win gave the Orioles (8-7) their second series victory against the Rays this season — they also took two of three in the season-opening series at Tropicana Field — and three series wins in four early-season American League East matchups.
The victory also extended the Orioles' club-record streak of 98 consecutive regular-season wins when leading after the completion of the seventh inning, the second-longest for any club since 1961, trailing only the New York Yankees' streak of 116 in 1998 and '99.
For a club hovering around the .500 mark for most of this young season, it was a much needed win.
“It was huge for us,” said third baseman Manny Machado, who had a key bunt single in the 10th. “We've been battling pretty good the last couple of weeks, and this was a big win to get us going.”
After Nick Markakis opened Thursday's 10th inning with a single, Machado dropped a bunt that that hugged the first-base line for a base hit. Adam Jones hit a long single off the right-field wall to set the stage for Wieters, who took Brandon Gomes deep.
“Text book way to win a game is the bunt Manny put down,” manager Buck Showalter said. “I think about that as development — all the people in the farm system who don't let him not be good at that. Everybody thinks he's got a chance to be a run producer. That's something that, it's not their fault, it's our fault if they don't come up here with that.”
With the bases loaded and no outs, the Rays played with a five-man infield, so Wieters had wide gaps in the outfield and really just needed a fly ball to score the winning run.
“It's something to where your job is still to hit the ball to the outfield, whether they have four or one infielder on the infield,” Wieters said. “Your job is to hit the ball into the outfield, whether it's a sacrifice fly or you get something to fall in.”
Wieters also helped out with his arm, throwing out Rays speedster Desmond Jennings at second in the ninth inning of a tied ballgame for his seventh throwout in nine stolen base attempts against him this season.
The Rays (5-10) have seen enough of Wieters. His grand slam was his 13th career homer against Tampa Bay, his most against any club, and his .342 average against the Rays is the fourth best among active players.
The Orioles bullpen, a huge factor in the team's extra-inning success last season, allowed just one run in 4 1/3 innings, including a clutch scoreless 10th by left-hander Troy Patton (1-0), who overcame a walk and hit to strand two runners.
Orioles designated hitter Steve Pearce, who entered Thursday's game hitless in his first 13 at-bats, ended his slump in a big way, hitting a two-run homer off reliever Jake McGee to give the Orioles a 6-5 lead in the seventh inning.
“I thought I was going to be bunting in that situation, try to get the runner over to third,” Pearce said. “And I was surprised that Buck let me swing away right there. Initially, I was just trying to move the runner over. I worked the count real well, got a pitch to hammer and got it.”
The Orioles chased reigning AL Cy Young Award winner David Price from the game after six innings and then took the lead off McGee, just like they did on Opening Day in a 7-4 win at Tropicana Field.
Pearce's homer was just the fourth hit for Orioles designated hitters in 50 at-bats this season. (He added a single in the ninth.)
For Price, it was the first time in his career that he squandered three separate leads. Price, who allowed just one run over 22 1/3 innings against the Orioles last season, has a 5.25 ERA in two starts against them this year.
“It's a good team,” Wieters said. “No matter who they run out there starting pitching, they're going to have a good one going out there. It's nice to win series and that's always our goal going in, to try to win the series.”
Rays first baseman James Loney's eighth-inning homer off reliever Darren O'Day tied the game at 6. It was the first run scored off O'Day in eight outings this season.
The Orioles had the potential winning run on second base with two outs in the ninth against Rays reliever Jamey Wright (0-1), but pinch hitter Nate McLouth flied out to deep center field.
Orioles starter Miguel Gonzalez yielded three Tampa Bay homers, tying a career-high, and snapped a six-outing quality-start streak that dated back to Sept. 5.
The 28-year-old right-hander lasted just 5 2/3 innings, marking the eighth time in 15 games this season that an Orioles starting pitcher has not lasted six innings.
Gonzalez entered the game having not allowed a home run in his first two starts of the season, but he allowed a pair of solo homers four batters into the game.
Jennings opened the game with his second leadoff homer of the series. Three batters later Rays third baseman Evan Longoria also homered.
The Orioles fell behind 3-0 in the second inning on a bases-loaded sacrifice fly by Jennings.
The Orioles rebounded to tie the game in the second with three runs off Price, capped by slumping Nolan Reimold's two-run homer.
Reimold, who entered the night with just three hits in his last 20 at-bats, took a first-pitch 93-mph fastball from Price over the fence in center field and into the Orioles bullpen. That tied the game at 3.
The Orioles scored their first run in the inning on Chris Davis' RBI single, which drove in Wieters, who led off the inning with a double down the right-field line.
Gonzalez nearly escaped damage in the third inning. Facing runners at first and second with one out, Loney hit an apparent double-play ball to Davis at first. Davis went to second for the force there, but shortstop J.J. Hardy's throw back to first skipped over the glove of a jumping Gonzalez at first and into the stands, allowing Matt Joyce to trot home and make it 4-3.
Orioles second baseman Alexi Casilla fueled a two-out rally in the fifth, speeding out of the box for a double on an opposite-field hit into the gap. Markakis then hit an infield single into the hole at shortstop to place runners at the corners. Machado then laced a double that one-hopped off the left-center field fence, easily scoring Casilla from third. But Markakis was caught in a rundown between third and home plate for the third out of the inning with the middle of the lineup coming up.
Gonzalez had retired nine straight before catcher Jose Molina hit a solo homer with two outs in the sixth to give Tampa Bay a 5-4 lead.
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