If there is a silver lining in Wednesday's 2-0 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays that spoiled the Orioles' shot of returning home undefeated, it's that the Orioles are, well, returning home.
After seven weeks in Florida, the Orioles planned to fly to Baltimore on Wednesday night and will hold their home opener — weather permitting — Friday at Camden Yards.
“Oh God. I don't care if it's snowing, raining or sleeting, I'm in,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “I feel like we have been gone for a long time. We have.”
Their last foray in Florida for more than a month was similar to many Orioles-Rays matchups at Tropicana Field over the years: a bizarre game that never seemed to follow script.
The game featured as many video challenges (three) as hits by the Orioles, and the Rays scored their decisive run by drawing four consecutive, two-out walks.
Orioles starter Miguel Gonzalez threw 32 pitches in the first inning, and didn't give up a run. The Orioles had three hits and struck out 13 times — just the second time the club has done that in a shutout in their past 13 seasons.
And Showalter said the Tropicana Field bullpen phones didn't work again. So, in preparation for that snafu, he called in pitching changes through walkie talkies that he bought Wednesday morning.
“It's strange. It is what it is,” Showalter said. “The phones didn't work again tonight. We had to buy a walkie talkie — it's a challenge. I'm going to turn it in on expenses, though. That walkie talkie is expensive.”
Yes, indoor baseball at the Trop between the Rays and Orioles always has unique twists and turns. The Orioles pitchers allowed eight walks — four in one inning — and gave up just two runs. Meanwhile, the club's offense, which had scored 12 runs in its first 11 innings of the regular season, hasn't scored in its last 16 frames.
Playing before an announced crowd of 13,569, the only offense the Rays could muster for seven innings was courtesy of the Orioles' pitchers inability to throw strikes.
With the game knotted in a scoreless tie in the sixth, Gonzalez (0-1) picked up two outs before walking his final two batters of the game. Lefty Brian Matusz entered and walked his first two — including Logan Forsythe with the bases loaded to make it 1-0.
“There's not much margin for error there,” Showalter said. “We walked too many people and we struck out too many times. You don't like the chance of being as close as we were.”
Ten of Matusz's first 14 pitches of the season were balls — including a wild pitch. After going 2-0 to the next batter, infielder Tim Beckham, pitching coach Dave Wallace came out to settle Matusz. The visit worked: Matusz struck out Beckham, stranding the bases loaded.
The Rays added their second run in the eighth when Evan Longoria doubled against Brad Brach and scored on a single by Desmond Jennings. Brach was one of five pitchers used by Showalter. The list included 22-year-old flamethrower Jason Garcia, who threw a scoreless inning in his major league debut. It was the Rule 5 pick's first game above Low-A ball.
“There was a lot of emotion flying there. There were a lot of hamsters running around backwards in that cage,” Showalter said of Garcia's debut. “It's an honor as you get older to have a seat to watch something like that. I know what a big moment it was for him and his family.”
The Orioles (2-1) caught a big break in the bottom of the first, when Gonzalez had significant trouble throwing strikes and putting away hitters — and yet he didn't give up a run, thanks in part to an overturned call.
He threw 10 pitches before getting leadoff hitter David DeJesus to fly out. He then allowed two consecutive singles and a walk, going to a full count on three of the first four batters he faced.
“Ooof. I was a little off,” Gonzalez said. “I was a little off on my fastball and I was able to command my off-speed [pitches] early, which was good.”
On Gonzalez's 32nd pitch, Jennings hit a bases-loaded grounder to shortstop. The Orioles attempted a 6-4-3 double play, but Jennings was initially ruled safe at first, allowing the run to score.
But Showalter challenged the call and it was overturned on video review, wiping the Rays' run off the board.
It was also significant because the inning ended, allowing Gonzalez to regroup. Seemingly headed for an early exit due to an elevated pitch count, Gonzalez threw 45 pitches in his next four innings and faced the minimum number of batters in three of the next four frames. He threw 98 pitches in 5 2/3 innings, allowing one run on three hits and five walks while striking out five.
“That double play we got, it was phenomenal,” Gonzalez said. “It was fun to watch. That got me going and I felt pretty good after that.”
That first inning review was one of three calls that went in the Orioles' favor Wednesday. In the fourth, third baseman Manny Machado made an excellent, back-handed stab, slid into foul territory and unleashed a long throw to nab Logan Forsythe at first.
“Nobody makes that play, just from the arm strength alone,” Showalter said. “There's a lot of really good third basemen. That's the separator. That's amazing.”
Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash challenged the ruling and replays showed that Forsythe beat the throw, but it appeared that his foot didn't initially hit the first base bag. After a review of two minutes and five seconds, it was ruled the call would stand — an indication that there wasn't enough video evidence to overturn it.
Cash lost his ability to challenge for the remainder of the game. An umpire's review in the seventh upheld an inning-ending caught-stealing that also benefited the Orioles.
Meanwhile, Gonzalez found his rhythm and matched zeros with Tampa Bay right-hander Jake Odorizzi, who had very little trouble ripping through the Orioles' lineup.
The Orioles threatened only once against Odorizzi (1-0), when they put two runners on base in the second. In his first at-bat as an Oriole, catcher Ryan Lavarnway doubled with one out, Odorizzi then hit Jonathan Schoop in the left elbow with a pitch before getting a fly out and strikeout to end the inning.
After plunking Schoop, Odorizzi retired 12 of his final 13 batters. He left with two outs in the seventh, having thrown 94 pitches. He struck out seven, didn't walk a batter and faced the minimum in five of the six full innings he pitched.
“He was mixing the split with the high fastball,” said De Aza, who had two of the Orioles' three hits. “He was throwing a good ball today.”
De Aza said the Orioles were hoping for the sweep, but it's more important that they won the series against a division rival and are heading back to Baltimore.
“It's always happy to be home, especially with the fans waiting for us there,” De Aza said. “We're going to try to make a good show there.”