Tampa Bay Rays left-hander José Alvarado filthily cruised through the three Orioles batters he faced in the top of the 10th inning Thursday, striking out the side and positioning the Rays for a walk-off victory and a sweep of Baltimore.
Such a result could’ve been understandable. The Orioles saw a 5-2 lead slip away on Mike Zunino’s two-run double in the eighth and Avisaíl García’s mammoth home run in the ninth. Tampa Bay had the middle of its order due up in the 10th, aiming for a seventh straight victory over Baltimore.
Instead, left-hander John Means answered by striking out the side himself to extend the game by another frame. There, the Orioles struck for a run, and Means was able to make that lead hold in the 11th for a 6-5 victory over the team with the best record in baseball.
“It was a character win,” first-year manager Brandon Hyde said. “Those are tough games to win, right? When you’re on the road and you lose the lead late. So you hand it to our guys.
“The dugout was great. The guys were supporting each other and [had a] never-give-up attitude. It was fantastic.”
With a team playing in extra innings for the first time under Hyde and coming off a dismal 2018, the lost momentum carrying beyond the ninth would’ve been expected. But Means, officially removed from the Orioles’ rotation but with a strong likelihood of returning in the near future, retired the Rays’ 4-5-6 hitters in order to propel the game to another inning.
After two quick outs to open the 11th, Chris Davis, in his first at-bat since Monday thanks to a stomach illness, grounded a two-strike single up the middle for his fifth hit in 13 at-bats as a pocket of Rays fan chanted “Oh-for-50.” Rio Ruiz blooped a single into left as Davis aggressively turned toward third and slid in safely. Joey Rickard then laced a go-ahead double down the left-field line, the first extra-base hit allowed by Rays flamethrower Diego Castillo this season.
“It just shows how gritty we are,” Rickard said. “This is a big win for us, and a lot of guys stepped up today.”
Ruiz was thrown out at the plate, but one run was enough of a lead for Means to protect. A one-out walk raised tensions, especially when Willy Adames lined a fastball to center, but Cedric Mullins, with one hit in his previous 32 at-bats, lunged forward to snag the ball for the second out.
“That’s a pick-me-up play,” Hyde said. “Ced’s grinding, there’s no doubt about it. He’s not off to the start he wanted to start the season with. He just continues to play good defense out in center field. He made a huge play to help us win and contribute. Happy to see that.”
Facing García, Means’ pitches only glanced the strike zone, never giving the Ray something to hit after his projected 447-foot blast two innings prior. In a full count, Means delivered the final blow with a strikeout to seal the victory.
The Orioles finished their seven-game road trip through Boston, home of the struggling World Series champion Red Sox, and St. Petersburg, where the Rays have already built a 5 1/2-game lead in the American League East, with a respectable 3-4 record. They’re 7-6 on the road this season after winning 19 games away from Camden Yards all of last season.
Friday, they return home to begin a series with the Minnesota Twins, looking to start turning around a 1-6 home record the way they flipped the late-inning momentum Thursday.
“It’s a great team win, especially [against] these guys that are first in the division right now,” Means said. “They’ve got a good team, and to get a win out of here is definitely good for morale.”