ST. PETERSBURG, FLA. — If the Orioles are fated for better than mediocrity, games like Sunday's illustrate how they'll get there. No longer are the Orioles able to rely heavily on their stars, at least not so far this season. They need every ounce of production from every spot they can find.
Sunday's 8-5 comeback victory over the Tampa Bay Rays to earn a series win at Tropicana Field was mostly about the blossoming stars and bit-part players on their roster, not the established All-Stars they've spent all year waiting to come around.
"That's what makes good teams great, it's that we have our star players and our big-name guys and they're going to do their part," said left fielder Joey Rickard, whose ninth-inning double broke a 5-5 tie. "But it's nice to help them out once in a while."
Rickard was one of a handful of players handed a start Sunday who made good on a rare opportunity. Neither he nor Craig Gentry often starts against right-handed pitching, but manager Buck Showalter loaded the lineup against right-hander Jake Odorizzi. Caleb Joseph caught the day game after a 4 p.m. game, as is the custom. And Paul Janish was in there for his defense.
They combined to produce six of the Orioles' 10 hits, drove in four runs, and influenced every facet of the game for manager Buck Showalter. Janish brought home two with a two-out single in the second inning. Joseph homered in the fourth inning, the second of his three hits. Gentry had a hit in the second inning and a sacrifice bunt in the ninth-inning rally. Rickard had the go-ahead hit in the ninth.
"I thought it was really nice," Joseph said. "Paul had a big couple hits, drove in a run with the first one. Craig squared the ball up pretty nice, laid down a nice bunt, I was able to kind of jump-start a few rallies there. That was good. Anytime you get on base, create some havoc, you turn it over for the big boys up at the top. That's kind of the recipe that we want to try to implement every time we are in there. Today we were able to do that."
Said Janish: "We were joking about it, saying it was just like spring training all over again. We do this every year in spring training. Why not do it during the year?"
Truthfully, they were all in the lineup for their defense. Janish was part of several critical double plays at shortstop, Joseph threw out a runner trying to steal, and Showalter lavished praise on Rickard in left field and Gentry in right field.
Gentry made his presence known early by taking extra bases away from Logan Morrison on a wall-bound line drive in the gap with one on and two out in the first inning.
"I thought the corner outfielders offensively and defensively were the difference in the game," Showalter said. "We made a lot of plays in the corners that haven't made this year."
Their offensive output was what exceeded expectations, though. That the Orioles were in a position for the bottom of the lineup to start a ninth-inning comeback was owed to home runs by rookie Trey Mancini and second baseman Jonathan Schoop, two players whose stars are on the rise this year. Mancini's 14th home run tied the record for most by an Orioles rookie before the All-Star break. Schoop's 15th tied him for the team lead. They represent the team's most consistent and productive bats by a wide margin, and that's been the case for most of the year.
That tag has been in past years slapped on first baseman Chris Davis, third baseman Manny Machado and outfielder Mark Trumbo, to name a few. But Davis was batting .220, albeit with 15 home runs, when he strained his oblique two weeks ago. Machado also has 15 home runs, but is batting .228. And Trumbo has delivered five game-winning hits late in games already this year, but has just 10 home runs to go with his .255 average.
Shortstop J.J. Hardy is out with a fractured wrist. Center fielder Adam Jones is having an up-and-down offensive season, though recently it's most been good.
All told, the Orioles have nine former All-Stars on their roster. Only reliever Brad Brach, who pitched two shutout innings for the win as part of 42/3 innings of shutout relief, is performing at a level that would warrant consideration for a return next month in Miami. Injuries or inconsistent play has dulled the shine on almost all the rest.
But part of the Orioles' formula in recent years has been to get value from everyone on their roster and arrange the pieces in a way that made the collective greater than its components.
If Sunday's win sparks something greater for them, they'll know whom to thank.
"This game is a funny game," Janish said. "It goes good and it goes bad and it can snowball both ways. Hopefully, we just finished a rough stretch. Being able to win a series on the road, we obviously haven't played well on the road of late. Hopefully, it does the opposite. Hopefully, it snowballs and we start going the other way. We can get just as hot as we were cold, and that's the mindset we're going to take going forward."