Playing against a division rival, attempting to climb back to .500 and facing what likely will be an emotionally charged upcoming series in Boston, the Orioles certainly needed a complete effort like their 3-0 win against the Tampa Bay Rays on Wednesday afternoon.
They also needed to get back into the clubhouse and thaw out — that’s what happens when the temperature at first pitch is 39 degrees and you play for nearly three hours.
“I think it is more mental than anything else. Both teams have to play in it. It’s not like one team has advantage over the other,” Orioles first baseman Chris Davis said. “You can’t feel your fingertips, your eyes are watering, but that is part of it, man.”
The Orioles ice-scraped their way to a victory Wednesday on the strength of a sacrifice fly by Matt Wieters, an RBI groundout by J.J. Hardy and a bases-loaded RBI single by Adam Jones that trickled about 40 feet along the third base line.
“With the Tampa team, you know how their pitching staff is selfish. They don’t allow much,” said Jones, whose bunt single set up a bases loaded situation in the fourth inning that led to two runs on productive outs before he added the RBI roller in the fifth. “They are stingy. Whatever we can do to manufacture runs, we have to do that.”
Jones was the designated hitter Wednesday after being sent home Tuesday with the flu — which has affected several members of the club for the past week.
“Adam posting up, period, that's hard to do,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “You look at the way this thing's going on around the game. Most people aren't playing the next day in a day game. That's another testament to Adam. His effort level every day, it's hard to do what he does.”
Orioles right-hander Miguel Gonzalez and two relievers made the three runs stand up in the club’s first shutout since Sept. 6, 2013, against the Chicago White Sox.
Gonzalez, who has earned the reputation in his three seasons with the Orioles as a gamer who competes in any situation, threw five scoreless innings despite having to rely more on his two-seam fastball than usual because it was the easiest pitch to grip with frozen fingers.
How cold was it Wednesday?
The last time the Orioles played in a game with a lower first-pitch temperature was April 28, 2008, at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago — one of the worst weather conditions for a game in recent memory. With a driving rain to match the 38-degree temperature that day, puddles the size of small bass ponds collected in the infield and outfield. Eventually, that game was suspended and resumed later that season in Baltimore.
There was no need for fishing poles Wednesday, just lots of gloves, hats and hand-warmers more fitting for a Ravens game. Still, a multilayered, announced crowd of 22,611 watched Gonzalez (1-1) get his first win of the season and the Orioles (7-7) sweep the abbreviated two-game series to jump ahead of the Rays (7-8) in the American League East.
“I think as the weather warms up, Miggy's only going to get better,” Showalter said. “Maybe by, what, July, it might get warm? We're going to be complaining about the heat here before too long. You know that.”
Gonzalez was supposed to pitch Tuesday night, but that game was rained out. He had gone a full week since he last started in a no-decision against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on April 9.
Heading into Wednesday, Gonzalez was actually better on six days rest or more (3.38 ERA in 12 starts) than on a starter’s regular four days rest (4.29 ERA in 22 starts). In his career, Gonzalez’s lowest ERA (2.73 in 10 starts) is when he pitches on five days rest, which was supposed to happen Tuesday.
But Gonzalez didn’t look too rusty Wednesday.
With his five shutout innings, Gonzalez lowered his career ERA with six days or more rest to 3.16. His early season ERA dropped from 9.64 to 6.28. He allowed just three hits and three walks while striking out six batters. He had fanned just four in his first two starts this season.
“I felt a lot better than my last two outings. I thought I threw the ball a little bit better,” Gonzalez said. “[The cold] was tough. I made some good pitches when I needed to, and we won the ballgame. We got some great defense out there.”
He also got some help from relievers Zach Britton, who threw three scoreless innings, and Tommy Hunter, who picked up his fourth save by not allowing a run in the ninth.
Britton now has not allowed a run in any of his six appearances this season, spanning 11 1/3 innings.
“He is throwing the ball with a lot of confidence. He has a game plan, and he is sticking to it,” Hunter said about Britton. “I’ll pat him on the butt and hope he keeps it up.”
Hunter, the club’s new closer, made his first appearance since blowing his first save of the season Saturday against the Toronto Blue Jays.
The Orioles have won two straight ganes and five of seven. They now head on the road for a seven-game road trip against two division opponents, the Boston Red Sox and the Blue Jays.
After Thursday’s off day, the Orioles begin a four-game series at Fenway Park, which concludes with a Monday morning game on the same day as the Boston Marathon. The race is being held for the first time since last year’s bombing at the finish line — and emotions are sure to be high.
Showalter said the team is “honored” to be able to play the Red Sox in Boston this week. But Jones said after Wednesday’s win that he and his teammates also understand what they have to do when they take the field.
“I think Boston has healed pretty nicely from it, from getting the World Series [title]. So let’s go up there and beat them. That’s pretty much our goal,” he said. “We’re not going up there with any sympathy. I think everybody around the league has said their prayers for the city of Boston for what happened last year. But baseball’s got to be played.
“So once we get going at Fenway Park, we’re going to go up there and try to put up some runs.”