With the Orioles in the first year of a full-on rebuild, manager Brandon Hyde knew what he was stepping into when he took the job. Baltimore is deploying a team with many inexperienced players, and Hyde’s daily lineups are filled with hitters who have more major league plate appearances this season than in any previous years combined.
For the first eight innings Sunday, none of the at-bats by those Orioles or any other produced a hit, with Tampa Bay’s Ryne Stanek and Ryan Yarbrough combining to not allow a base runner. But Hanser Alberto, one of the Orioles getting more opportunities than he ever has before, poked a single the other way against a shifted infield on Yarbrough’s first pitch of the ninth to end the Rays’ bid for what would’ve been the first combined perfect game in major league history.
“Finally, we got it,” Alberto said he was thinking as he became Sunday’s first Oriole to reach first base safely. “We were trying to get it the whole game, but he [Yarbrough] was pitching really good. A really good performance, pitching in and out, and the off-speed was really good. We were going out there and competing and trying to put somebody on base, and finally we did in the ninth inning.”
A collection of Alberto’s family was in attendance, cheering him during a pitching change and chanting “Let’s go, Hanser!” ahead of his ninth-inning at-bat. Stevie Wilkerson and Anthony Santander singled behind him, but Trey Mancini, representing the tying run, struck out as the Rays held on for a 4-1 victory. Mancini is hitless in 24 straight at-bats. He and his teammates started Sunday’s game doing the same.
Alberto said he was aware of the potential history by the middle innings, while Hyde said his focus didn’t shift from the Orioles’ poor at-bats to the risk of infamy until the seventh.
“You’re just hoping that somebody gets a hit,” Hyde said. "I saw a little frustration from our guys today, toward later on in the game, which I think is OK. They’re showing some emotion. They didn’t want to be embarrassed. You’re just hoping and wishing somebody’s gonna get a hit.”
Stanek, the face of Tampa Bay’s opener usage that has spread throughout baseball, got some help from well-positioned defense in his two perfect innings. In the second, Pedro Severino swung at a 3-0 fastball and lined out at 103.8 mph to second baseman Joey Wendle, who was playing up the middle behind the bag. Chris Davis then smoked a liner the other way with the infield shifting him to pull, but third baseman Mike Brosseau remained on the left side and caught Davis’ stinger. The ball had a 77% percent chance of being a hit, per Statcast’s expected batting average based on the ball’s launch angle and exit velocity.
The Orioles only once threatened for a hit in their first six innings against Yarbrough, who got 13 of his outs by strikeout or groundout. Mancini ended the fourth with a 109.8 mph line drive, but it went right to Tampa Bay center fielder Kevin Kiermaier.
Like Yarbrough, Orioles starter Tom Eshelman was promoted to the majors Sunday, taking the rotation spot that opened when Baltimore traded Andrew Cashner to the Boston Red Sox on Saturday. He allowed four runs in 5 2/3 innings and struck out seven after recording no strikeouts in five two-run innings against the Rays in his major league debut July 1.
“Each time I have the opportunity to pitch, just go out there and try to give my team the ability to win,” he said. "Can’t look into the future. Have to look into the now and work hard each and every time.”
Eshelman limited damage in a bases-loaded, no-outs jam in the second, holding the Rays to one run on a sacrifice fly by Wendle that Mancini corralled with a sliding catch in right. Austin Meadows led off the third with the 101st Eutaw Street home run in Camden Yards history on a fastball Eshelman left over the middle of the plate.
But Eshelman retired 11 in a row from there, coming within an out of a quality start before Nate Lowe singled and Brosseau followed with a home run on his 100th pitch. It was Brosseau’s third home run in the past two games, and all four of his career home runs have come against Baltimore.
"Brosseau and Gleyber Torres right now are O’s killers,” Hyde said.