The first two games of the season-opening series between the Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays have been so exciting and entertaining that they have heaped an extra layer of meaning upon the deciding game of the series this afternoon at Tropicana Field.
Sure, it's just the third game of the season, but the Orioles blew a four-run lead late in Wednesday night's game and with it a chance to go for a three-game sweep when Miguel Gonzalez takes the mound against Roberto Hernandez. They would really like to go back to Baltimore for Opening Day at Camden Yards on Friday with more than one victory to show for this series.
They were able to make some things happen against 2012 Cy Young Award winner David Price in the opener and scored five runs against the usually stingy Jeremy Hellickson on Wednesday night. This will be the first pitching matchup that appears to be in the Orioles' statistical favor, but the first two games have defied convention so there's no point in handicapping this one.
Gonzalez came out of nowhere last year to go 9-4 with a 3.25 ERA and lock up a place in the starting rotation, but it's too soon to call him a proven commodity. He did pitch well in the spring, but you can bet the Rays have broken him down on film and become pretty familiar with him.
Rays starter Roberto Hernandez, the sinkerball artist formerly known as Fausto Carmona, is trying to revive his career after a difficult 2012 during which he pitched only 14 1/3 innings and posted a 7.53 ERA following the false identity scandal.
Go figure. This will probably end up being the pitching duel after two teams not previously known for their offensive prowess combined to score 26 runs in the first two games of the series.
The big offensive question: Can Chris Davis stay hot? He has homered in each of the first two games and already has four extra-base hits and seven RBIs, and he has done all that damage against some of the better pitchers in the AL East.