Still a few steps away from the mound last night, Orioles manager Dave Trembley no longer could contain his enthusiasm. He clapped his hands before taking the ball from starter Garrett Olson, and sent him back to the dugout with a quick flurry of pats on the back. At times Olson's harshest critic, Trembley offered his rave review for everyone to see.
Olson retired the first seven batters he faced, escaped jams in three innings and carried a shutout bid into the seventh before losing it with two outs when the Tampa Bay Rays' Akinori Iwamura doubled to center field. Olson left to a rousing ovation, and the Orioles held on for a 7-4 victory before an announced 11,588 at Camden Yards.
Tampa Bay starter Jason Hammel didn't make it out of the third inning, turning in the shortest outing of his career, and the Orioles (15-11) began their brief homestand by taking over first place in the American League East by percentage points over the Boston Red Sox. But they had to withstand a rally that included B.J. Upton's two-run homer off reliever Randor Bierd in the seventh.
Olson, called up earlier in the day from Triple-A Norfolk, was charged with two runs, as Carl Crawford's single off Bierd scored Iwamura. Two of the four hits off Olson didn't leave the infield, and he walked five and struck out six.
"Tonight, he looked like a big leaguer," Trembley said, "and he pitched like a big leaguer."
Mora added a sacrifice fly off reliever J.P. Howell in the sixth, and Huff followed Kevin Millar's run-scoring single with his team-leading fifth homer off Scott Dohmann for a 7-0 lead.
Olson was making his eighth career start in the majors, his first in 2008. He went 1-1 with a 1.85 ERA in five starts at Norfolk, never allowing more than two earned runs.
"The reports are that it's time for him to see if he can do it at this level," Trembley said.
The Rays can testify that he looks ready. Olson threw 105 pitches, and the only negative aspect of his outing was the number of walks.
"I think you saw a pitcher who let his pitches go tonight," Millar said. "You didn't see a guy who was trying to do too much. Everything was coming out crisp."
The Orioles recalled Olson to fill an opening in the rotation that was created after they placed Adam Loewen on the disabled list with a sore left elbow.
Olson understands that he must take better advantage of his latest opportunity after posting a 7.79 ERA and walking 28 batters in 32 1/3 innings over seven starts last season. The confidence and command he had displayed in the minors hadn't surfaced until last night.
"I just felt that I was more in control with myself tonight and not getting flustered in crucial situations," he said. "At this level, consistency, as far as your windup, how you approach the plate, it's big."
Olson's fastball stayed in the 89-91 mph range all night, which is sufficient when he knows where it's going.
"He pitched inside better and he worked faster," Trembley said. "Last year, it seemed like his tempo was really slow and it was like he pitched defensive. Tonight, it looked like he was going to make them hit it."
The Rays didn't have a base runner until Eric Hinske walked with one out in the third. Jason Bartlett executed a perfect hit-and run and Iwamura walked to load the bases. Crawford grounded to Mora, who threw home for the force, and Olson struck out Upton on three pitches.
Dioner Navarro reached on an infield hit to begin the fifth, and Hinske walked, but Olson retired the next three batters. And another infield hit and a walk in the sixth were followed by a fly ball and Hernandez's pickoff throw that retired rookie Evan Longoria at first base.
"I would think after the way he pitched tonight, we would have to see what we can do to get him back out there again," Trembley said.