The Orioles’ 3-2 extra-inning win over the Tampa Bay Rays on Thursday afternoon was a long time coming — in more ways than one.
The Orioles needed 14 innings — and five hours and 14 minutes — to complete a three-game sweep of the division-rival Rays, a monumental win for the long-suffering baseball fans of Baltimore.
The victory, delivered on rookie Manny Machado’s two-out walk-off single to left before 25,130 at Camden Yards, was the Orioles’ 81st of the season, guaranteeing them at least a .500 record and snapping the club’s streak of 14 consecutive losing seasons.
These Orioles (81-62) obviously have more lofty goals, ones that include a playoff berth and division title for the first time since they went wire to wire in the American League East in 1997. But the fact that this team snapped one of this city’s most dubious sports distinctions wasn’t lost on them.
“I don't think our guys take anything for granted,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “There's a bigger goal in mind, and that wasn't the goal from Day One this spring. [Or], really, Day One of the off-season.”
With just 19 games remaining in the regular season, the Orioles boarded their team charter to the West Coast — they open a three-game series Friday night in Oakland, then go to Seattle on Monday for three before traveling to Boston — later than anticipated Thursday evening. But they were right where they wanted to be.
Atop the AL East.
The Orioles kept at least a share of the division lead, while sending the Rays (77-66) to four games back in the division and AL wild-card standings.
“I definitely think it’s something to be proud of,” said Orioles right fielder Chris Davis, who went 3-for-4 Thursday. “We’ve played well so far this year and put ourselves in a position to make the playoffs. But we’re not looking back right now. We’re looking forward, one game at a time, and [trying] to pile up the wins.”
The last year the Orioles didn’t have a losing season, Machado was just five years old. On Thursday, his two-out single to left field drove in Adam Jones with the winning run in the bottom of the 14th, giving the Orioles their 13th straight extra-inning victory and improving their record to 27-7 in one-run games.
“It feels great,” Machado said. “It feels even better [that] we're winning and we having great success. The thing about this team is we worry about the game tomorrow. We've got a big series coming up. Stay focused on what comes next.”
The Orioles, winners of 14 of their last 19, put together their winning rally with two outs as Jones drew a walk and late-inning substitute Endy Chavez slapped a single to left.
Machado, whose defensive heroics in played a key role in Wendesday’s one-run win over Tampa Bay, was given a green light with a 3-0 count and lined rookie Chris Archer’s pitch to left, where it fell just in front of a diving Matt Joyce for the Orioles’ second walk-off win in as many days.
“With their outfield, they’re so good defensively, you expect them to catch everything,” Showalter said. “It was fortunate it found some grass.”
The Orioles recorded their sixth series sweep — their fifth at Camden Yards — and have won 10 of their last 13 series.
The Rays used a club record 26 players in the game — including nine pitchers — the most by an AL team in 40 years.(Oakland used 30 on Sept. 19, 1972.)
Tampa Bay also successfully employed a five-man infield when the Orioles had the bases loaded and no outs in the 13th inning, preventing the winning run from scoring despite leaving huge holes in the outfield.
“You've got to give credit to the competition, too,” Orioles closer Jim Johnson said. “They're not making it easy for us. There was a big momentum swing in the game with that bases-loaded situation. … It's just the way baseball works out sometime.”
Orioles relievers Luis Ayala, Brian Matusz, Tommy Hunter and Randy Wolf combined to throw five scoreless extra innings, allowing just three hits and striking out eight, lowing the bullpen’s ERA in extra innings to 0.98 (46 innings, 5 earned runs).
The Orioles' 13-game extra-inning winning streak ties them with the 1995 Cleveland Indians for the longest in the majors over the last 27 years. The Orioles have also played eight games that have gone 12 innings or longer and hold a 7-1 record in them.
Rookie left-hander Wei-Yin Chen, who entered the day having lost consecutive starts for just the second time this season, turned in his longest outing in more than two months, allowing just two runs and scattering eight hits over 7 1/3 innings with seven strikeouts and one walk.
The Orioles improved to 33-2 when their starter goes seven or more innings and improved to 64-0 when leading after seven innings.
The Rays answered in the eighth, when Ben Zobrist’s slow roller to third scored Desmond Jennings from third with one out, chasing Chen from the game. Chen had issued a leadoff walk to Jennings, who advanced to second on a passed ball and later stole third.
The Orioles managed just four hits off Rays starter Jeremy Hellickson, who didn’t allow a baserunner past second base in his five innings of work.
The O’s had their opportunities to break through against Hellickson, most notably in the fourth when they had runners on first and second with one out before Machado hit into a 4-3 double play. The Orioles also had two runners in scoring position against Joel Peralta in the eighth inning, but Machado and Mark Reynolds both struck out swinging to end the inning.
But for this team, it was just a matter of time.
“I was thinking in the dugout, ‘If we’re so good at [winning extra-inning games], why didn’t we do it in the 10th inning?’” Showalter deadpanned after the game.
“For us to have as many extra-inning wins as we do, it speaks a lot to the character of this team, but also the talent on this team,” Davis said. “We expect to win every night we go out. I think if you’re not expecting to win, you shouldn’t go out and play the game. We’ve been fortunate lately to have some things go our way, but we’re playing really good baseball.
Longest consective losing season streaks in MLB history
19: Pittsburgh Pirates, 1993-current
16: Philadelphia Phillies, 1933-48
15: Boston Red Sox, 1919-33
15: Philadelphia/Kansas City Athletics, 1953-67
14: Baltimore Orioles, 1998-2011
14: Philadelphia Phillies, 1918-31
14: Seattle Mariners, 1977-90
13: Philadelphia Athletics, 1934-46
12: Milwaukee Brewers, 1993-2004
12: Detroit Tigers, 1994-2005