Left-hander Wei-Yin Chen’s time with the Orioles might be coming to a close, but he’s doing his part in trying to keep the season alive.
After his seven-inning gem Saturday gave the Orioles a 2-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays and their eighth win in 11 contests, Chen brushed off the idea that he might have only two starts remaining as an Oriole before becoming a free agent.
“That doesn’t really change anything for me because we are still in the season,” said the 30-year-old Chen, who is in his fourth season with the team. “Every time I go out there, I just want to pitch a good game, and so I don’t want to think about that during the season. I think that my agency, Scott Boras, they will do everything for me after the season.
“So I don’t want to worry about that.”
Despite having six pending free agents, the Orioles (73-75) as a club seem to be singularly focused on holding onto the tenuous dream of returning to the postseason for the third time in four years.
With 14 games remaining, the Orioles will have to jump over four teams to claim the final American League wild-card spot. They didn’t leave themselves much room for error, but it is still mathematically possible.
“We’re realistic. We need to win every one of them,” reliever Darren O’Day said. “We knew we were a better team than what we were showing there for a while.”
Playing before an announced 17,053 -- the Tropicana Field attendance was boosted by a postgame concert by rock band Sister Hazel, which manager Buck Showalter inadvertently referred to as Witch Hazel -- the Orioles managed just two runs against Rays right-hander Erasmo Ramirez (10-6).
Adam Jones had an RBI groundout in the first and a run-scoring single in the sixth to break a 1-1 tie. Ramirez, who had taken a no-hitter into the eighth in his previous start against the New York Yankees, was good Saturday night.
But Chen was better.
“He had good stuff all day,” catcher Matt Wieters said. “Wei-Yin is a guy, you put him on the mound in tough situations, he’s going to bear down and give you his best stuff.”
Chen allowed a base runner in all but two of his seven innings, but permitted just one run — an RBI double to the second batter he faced, Richie Shaffer — on six hits. He didn’t walk a batter or give up a homer, the fourth time he has done that this season.
He has now registered a quality start -- six innings or more with three earned runs or fewer — in eight of 13 road games this year and 19 of his 29 starts overall.
“Of course, I am happy I can have that number,” Chen said through interpreter Louis Chao. “But still we’ve got a couple games left in the season and I hope I can push that number up.”
There’s one other significant number reached by Chen (10-7) on Saturday night: his 10th win of the year. The Taiwanese lefty now has posted double-digit wins in three of his four seasons as an Oriole since leaving Japan for the majors.
“It’s hard to do,” Showalter said. “Especially when you’ve been around the league as long as he has and everybody knows what he’s going to do.”
Chen put an exclamation on his start by reaching back and throwing his 101st and final pitch, a 93-mph fastball, past pinch-hitter Joey Butler for his seventh strikeout of the game.
“He had a little extra miles per hour on his fastball today,” Wieters said. “That helped him get some extra outs.”
O’Day entered in the eighth — and then Wieters became the center of attention in a two-pitch sequence.
With one out, O’Day hit Grady Sizemore in the right knee with a pitch. Mikie Mahtook pinch-ran for Sizemore and attempted to steal second base.
Initially, Mahtook was called safe, but Evan Longoria’s backswing hit Wieters on the side as he was throwing to second. Home plate umpire Dale Scott ruled that Longoria obstructed Wieters and had crossed the plate in doing so. Scott immediately called Longoria out and made Mahtook return to first.
Knowing that Mahtook was trying to get to second with Longoria, the Rays’ best hitter, at the plate, Wieters assumed Mahtook would try again with Logan Forsythe at the pate and two outs. So he called for O’Day’s high fastball on the next pitch.
With Mahtook on the move again, Wieters threw a strike to second to get the runner and end the inning.
“Anytime you have a one-run lead late, any out is a big out,” Wieters said.
Second baseman Jonathan Schoop, who quickly applied the tag, gave all the credit to his catcher.
“It was big,” Schoop said. “That’s what Wieters does. He throws someone out.”
Zach Britton, who hadn’t pitched since Tuesday, entered and picked up his 34th save in 37 chances. On the final out, Schoop ranged far up the middle to snag a grounder and make an off-balance throw to finish the win.
“That play Jon made at the end of the game,” Showalter said, “are you kidding me?”
The Orioles head into Sunday attempting to win three out of four against the fourth-place Rays (71-77) and capture their fourth straight series win.
As has been the theme for the past two weeks, this surge might be a little too late, but Showalter said the Orioles can’t think that way.
“We’re hanging in there,” Showalter said. “We’re trying to do what we can do to get back into this thing.”