Before the call was even made, Austin Hays and his Orioles teammates were already leaving the field. He, as well as just about everyone inside Oriole Park at Camden Yards, knew the ruling would be overturned.
Hays had thrown a seed from left field to home plate, and catcher Anthony Bemboom applied the tag to Wander Franco. The initial call — which would’ve given the Tampa Bay Rays a 13th-inning lead — signaled Franco safe. But left-hander Nick Vespi left the mound moments later with two scoreless innings under his belt, in part thanks to Hays’ arm. But there was an even larger part: Vespi’s slider.
On a day many expected catcher Adley Rutschman — the top prospect in baseball — to make his Orioles debut, the major league debut for Vespi stole the headlines. It was his 20 sliders that drew seven whiffs, and his two innings that shut the door on the Rays.
“I knew when I got the nod,” Vespi said, “I was gonna go out there and try my best.”
And if not for that laser from Hays to seal the last of those two scoreless innings from Vespi, there wouldn’t have been the deep shot into the night from second baseman Rougned Odor, sealing the 8-6 victory for Baltimore with a second walk-off in as many days.
The Orioles (16-24) had thrice faced deficits and overcame them all — first in the seventh, then in the 10th and then in the 11th. But for all the comebacks, they couldn’t produce the winning run until the 13th, when Odor blasted a cutter to the flag court beyond the right field fence.
He knew it was gone, too. As did his teammates. For as quickly as the Orioles left the field during the review of Hays’ throw home, they spilled back out moments later in jubilation, throwing Gatorade on Odor as he crossed the plate.
“That’s a lot of emotions right there,” Odor said. “We win the game right there, that’s really good. Did my job to help my team win this game. And tonight’s game, it was unbelievable, man. All our pitchers did a really good job. Our defense was good, too. We don’t give up. We keep battling, keep fighting, and we win the game.”
The victory broke a string of 15 straight Rays wins over the Orioles, although Tampa Bay has still taken 27 of the last 30 matchups between the clubs.
“Total team effort,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “Our lineup grinded throughout the game, and then we were gutsy out of the bullpen.”
A back-and-forth night
In strode Anthony Santander, about 29 hours removed from a similar situation the day before. This time, though, the Orioles right fielder stepped in Friday night as a left-handed batter with bases loaded rather than as a right-hander with two on Thursday afternoon.
The results, though, were quite similar — even if the balls left his bat with a difference of 15 mph.
Santander was Baltimore’s hero in Thursday night’s walk-off win against the New York Yankees, blasting a three-run shot over the hotly debated left field fence. And on Friday, he saved Baltimore from a loss, softly lining a two-run single into right field to score two, retying the game in the 10th inning.
“I feel like there was something different every inning,” Hyde said. “There’s so many kinds of things that come into play with runner at second base and nobody out.”
But despite runners on second and third with no outs, the Orioles couldn’t come through with another run. Ryan McKenna stayed at third for the first groundout to the left side of the infield, then was thrown out on the second one.
Baltimore entered with a .198 batting average with runners in scoring position — the third lowest in the majors — and while Trey Mancini came through in the seventh as well, Baltimore still finished 6-for-19 in such situations, raising its average to .205. Odor’s homer was the major blow.
The Orioles had other opportunities, though. If right fielder Brett Phillips hadn’t thrown out Chris Owings at the plate to end the fifth, extra innings might not have been necessary. And it was Phillips’ double that gave the Rays a momentary lead in the 10th before Yandy Díaz’s run-scoring single, although Santander’s two-run single voided either knock.
“We blew a chance there with second and third, nobody out, and a lot of times when that happens, there’s a deflation that happens throughout the dugout, and it’s like, ‘That was our chance.’” Hyde said. “When you kind of blow that, a lot of times, I think it’s natural to feel like it’s not going to happen tonight, and I’m really happy proud of our guys, the way they kind of bounced back after that and continued to play.”
The back-and-forth nature was a carryover from earlier, when the Rays jumped up on catcher Mike Zunino’s three-run homer off right-hander Tyler Wells before the Orioles tied it in the seventh. Then Hays’ RBI single in the 11th tied the score again after Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier put his team ahead in the top half.
Perhaps there’s a different feeling in Baltimore. Before Thursday’s walk-off, the Orioles had been mired in a six-game losing streak. But in two consecutive nights, the script flowed Baltimore’s way, with a resounding shot out of the yard ending in a Gatorade bath.
“Watching them the last couple years, they’re not far off from competing,” Kiermaier told reporters. “Their time is coming.”
When Joshua Davis Kelsey learned his friends wanted to go to an Orioles game, his mind immediately jumped to what Friday could bring. In his group chat, Kelsey texted: “Adley Rutschman might be coming up from the minors that day … sold out stadium for sure.”
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That wasn’t to be. When Friday arrived — just as when Monday rolled around — Rutschman wasn’t in Baltimore. He was in Charlotte with Triple-A Norfolk, on the bench after catching three straight days for the Tides.
“Tonight was the night!” Kelsey yelled outside Pickles Pub before the game, enjoying a bucket of Bud Light to himself despite lamenting a missed opportunity to see Rutschman. The 27-year-old from Catonsville isn’t alone in that disappointment, either, among the 15,127 fans at Camden Yards.
There’s little certainty around when Rutschman might make his long-awaited major league debut. For now, that wait continues.
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