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Orioles' recipe for success vs. Rays goes back to their bread and butter

There was one question lingering around Camden Yards before the Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays faced off for the final time this year Sunday, one that has been asked for years about the Orioles: How serious a threat can a team be when it's relying on a struggling starter like Wade Miley to salvage a series split against a bottom-feeder in September?

The answer, just like the question, remains the same as it's always been for the Orioles. When you boast a full-strength bullpen with three All-Stars and a pair of thriving rookies, plus the most powerful lineup in a generation, so many flaws can be obscured.

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The Orioles bullpen, which ran out its top five relievers for an inning apiece after Miley left with a back strain before the fifth inning, had just one blemish in a 2-1 win over the Rays. Home runs by third baseman Manny Machado in the sixth inning and right fielder Mark Trumbo in the eighth erased that early deficit.

What began as yet another occasion to wonder about the Orioles' starting-rotation depth became an opportunity to acknowledge just what this Orioles team was built to do.

"I think it's a pretty good example of what we do," Trumbo said.

To get to the point where Orioles sluggers could do what they do best, the bullpen had to step up in rare circumstances. Miley was carrying a shutout into the fifth inning when a back strain he suffered an inning before worsened, and he left the game quickly.

That brought the quick return of right-hander Darren O'Day, whose first appearance after missing five weeks with a rotator cuff strain came in unfamiliar circumstances, and it showed. He allowed a first-pitch home run to designated hitter Corey Dickerson, then settled in to set the bar for what the rest of the relievers had to do, getting out of the inning otherwise unscathed with two strikeouts.

The two rookie pitchers who followed him, left-hander Donnie Hart and right-hander Mychal Givens, were the biggest beneficiaries of O'Day's recent absence. Manager Buck Showalter leaned heavily on O'Day against left-handed hitters out of necessity, but since he went out, Showalter's trusted Hart more and more.

It wasn't simple Sunday, with Hart loading the bases with one out on a single, a walk and a single. But he got out of it with an inning-ending double play that extended his career-opening streak of not having allowed an earned run to 14 2/3 innings over 17 appearances. He was undeterred when the two right-handed hitters he faced — third baseman Evan Longoria and right fielder Steven Souza Jr. — singled and put him in a jam.

Givens, who entered the day having allowed one run in seven September appearances, had two strikeouts in a clean seventh, and Brad Brach did the same in the eighth inning.

"Anytime rookies can get innings like that is huge, especially in a situation when the game is on the line," Brach said. "That's great for them, and the innings in June and July are definitely paying off right now."

Showalter said having O'Day rejoin the bullpen could be a boon in the team's final two weeks.

"We'll see how Darren is tomorrow, see how everything goes and how often we'll be able to use him," Showalter said. "Those last hitters were a reminder of what we've gone through without him."

Closer Zach Britton was warming up when the score was tied at 1, and came in to record his 45th save in 45 chances with a scoreless ninth. The Orioles bullpen has been baseball's second best over September, lowering its collective ERA to 2.04 Sunday.

But Britton's lockdown services were required only after the other half of the Orioles' bread and butter came through late.

Trumbo, whose acquisition from the Seattle Mariners last winter for catcher Steve Clevenger (Mount Saint Joseph) has proven to be one of the shrewder recent deals by any team, clobbered a first-pitch fastball over the Orioles bullpen for his 43rd home run of the season to break the tie.

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He has 12 go-ahead home runs this year, tied with third baseman Manny Machado, whose own homer tied it up in the sixth inning. Trumbo credited the bullpen for keeping the team close.

"It was essential," Trumbo said. "It was what we needed. A huge credit to our guys to give us a chance, especially [to] kind of give us that nice momentum push going into the bottom of the eighth inning."

Orioles bats have been creating plenty of momentum of their own. The club has 236 home runs, on pace for 257 overall this season. The franchise record is 257, set in 1996. A year later, the Seattle Mariners set the major league record with 264. Both are in play still, thanks to the likes of Trumbo and Machado.

Sometimes it seems like the Orioles' power hitters are showing off when they string together blasts in high-scoring games. Other times, all they can do is scratch out a pair of home runs to win a ballgame.

As September rolls on, and the intensity multiplies by the inning, then by the day, teams can be in a worse spot than the Orioles, who have a deep bullpen that can save a game and a powerful lineup that can win it.

"This time of year, someone's got to step up at some point in the game," Trumbo said. "We did a real nice job. It was a well-played game, but we just needed to get that hit there at the end."

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