The Orioles seemed dead-set on losing another game to the last-place Tampa Bay Rays — and losing more ground to the first-place Boston Red Sox — but the Rays would not allow that to happen.
The Orioles fell behind early for the second straight night and squandered a huge opportunity to overtake the Rays in the seventh inning. But Rays reliever Brad Boxberger gift-wrapped another bases-loaded situation in the eighth and the Orioles finally took advantage. They scored twice and survived a dramatic finish on the way to a 5-4 victory Friday night before 30,094 that kept them within two games of first place in the American League East.
Boxberger handed no-out walks to Jonathan Schoop and Pedro Alvarez, then hit Matt Wieters with a pitch to fill the bases. This time, the team that couldn't make contact in several big situations the night before was able to punch across the tying run on an RBI single by J.J. Hardy and go ahead on a sacrifice fly by Michael Bourn.
It took eight innings, but the Orioles rebounded from a second straight first-inning wake-up call from Rays third baseman Evan Longoria, whose three-run homer began the unraveling of Yovani Gallardo on Thursday night and whose two-run shot on Friday put Ubaldo Jimenez on the immediate defensive.
Orioles pitchers have been vulnerable in the first inning this season, but manager Buck Showalter said the important thing is what happens after a starter falters early.
"That's part of the game," he said. "I'm more interested in the end product — the end game. If you as a pitcher get so immersed in that and, 'Oh my gosh,' you know, you don't pitch five shutout innings after that."
This was a series the Orioles (81-66) needed to win to position themselves for the upcoming four-game set against the first-place Boston Red Sox, but the momentum pendulum took a hard U-turn as soon as they got home.
They could not recover from Gallardo's poor performance Thursday night and then got gut-punched from afar when the Red Sox scored five runs in the bottom of the ninth inning to beat the New York Yankees and knock the Orioles two games back in the American League East.
On Friday night, when they got that big chance to send the pendulum back in the other direction in the seventh inning, flashy Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier leaped over the center-field fence to pull a potential grand slam by Hyun Soo Kim back into the ballpark. The Orioles got one run instead of four and then Manny Machado and Chris Davis struck out to leave the bases loaded.
Closer Zach Britton did the rest, converting his 44th save in as many opportunities, but not before the streak survived some high drama. Steve Souza Jr. put the result in danger with a long fly ball to left that was caught be Bourn, and that wasn't all. Mikie Mahtook hit a bouncer up the middle that caromed off the second base bag for a hit and Alexei Ramirez singled down the left-field line to bring Mahtook streaking around third for the potential tying run.
It would have extended the game and ended the save streak, but Bourn scooped it up and found Machado, who made a perfect relay to get Mahtook on a close play at the plate. The Rays challenged the play, keeping the crowd in suspense a little longer, but it stood and the Orioles evened the series at a game apiece.
"I saw Michael got a good jump on it," Britton said, "so I was just hoping we had a chance at the play, and we did. I mean, if you get the ball to Manny's hands right there, more times than not you're out. And he did a heck of a job."
To that point, if the Orioles didn't have bad karma, they wouldn't have had any at all. Machado turned on a ball and lined it deep and just foul down the left-field line in the seventh and Schoop hit one that appeared to fly right over the left-field foul pole in the eighth, but also was just foul. Schoop, however, was able to draw the walk that started the eighth-inning rally.
The Orioles' first-inning frustration continued. Jimenez allowed a high chopper over Davis at first that the speedy Kiermaier stretched into a double, and Longoria launched a towering home run in his first at-bat for the second night in a row.
Of course, the last time Jimenez faced the Rays on Sept. 5, he allowed a three-run homer in the first inning to Logan Morrison, then followed that up with eight no-hit innings. No such luck this time. Jimenez returned to the mound in the second inning and allowed a leadoff single and another two-run home run — this one the first of the year by late-season call-up Richie Shaffer.
The "new" Ubaldo
The Ubaldo Jimenez who has been helping carry the rotation for the past few weeks re-emerged after Shaffer's no-out home run, giving up just a couple of ground-ball hits through the seventh. He gave way to Brad Brach after giving up four runs on seven hits. He struck out eight and walked none.