With the score tied at 2 and two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning, Orioles catcher Matt Wieters landed an uppercut on the Tampa Bay Rays, who are chasing the Boston Red Sox in the American League wild-card race. When Rays left-hander J.P. Howell left a changeup high in the strike zone, Wieters cranked a go-head home run into the left field bleachers for a 4-2 lead. The score held up.
Before Tuesday's game at Camden Yards, Orioles manager Buck Showalter spoke at length about Wieters and his success against left-handers this season. In spring training, the Orioles force-fed Wieters at-bats against lefties, whether it was in exhibition games or simulated game situations. And entering Tuesday's game, Wieters had been batting .320 with eight homers and 20 RBIs as a right-handed hitter against left-handers. He added to those last two totals with his bomb off Howell.
It was the second straight night Wieters hit a home run. He has five homers in his past 12 games, and he is one shy of 20 on the season. However, he said he hasn't changed a thing.
"I wish I could figure out what that difference was, but no," Wieters said after exiting the film room. "It's just go out there and keep playing and be able to get some pitches to hit hard."
And boy did he ever hit that one hard. It traveled 396 feet to left field, outdoing Evan Longoria's sixth-inning shot off Alfredo Simon by 4 feet. But Wieters said at least some of the credit should go to Adam Jones. The center fielder was held out of the starting lineup for the fourth game in a row but entered the game as a pinch-runner after Vladimir Guerrero's single off Howell. Jones induced a few throws to first base before Howell left the 1-1 pitch hanging up in the strike zone.
"Matty has a chance to hit 20 home runs," said Showalter, who also noted what Jones did at first base. "It seems like every one of them has been a big home run. You think about it, I don't care if you're 25 or 45, if you're catching -- he's going to catch over 140 games -- that's remarkable. He's just been a rock. I'm really proud of him. He's gotten better every year he's been here. It's pretty easy to look prophetic when you're talking about someone with the upbringing of Matt Wieters."
The home run was big for the Red Sox, too, who expanded their lead to four games with a win over the Toronto Blue Jays and the Rays' loss to the Orioles. Asked by reporters how it felt to start the 10-count for Tampa Bay, Wieters said he takes little pleasure in playing the spoiler role.
"We're just trying to play as well as we can against teams that are going to the playoffs," said the All-Star, who had an ice pack onto his right shoulder after another game behind the plate. "They can fight it out and go for the playoffs. We're just going to try and get better and keep working."