“It’s crunch time for the team, for the organization. We all know that. That’s added pressure in its own right,” center fielder Adam Jones said. “We’re not playing teams that are out if it. We are playing teams that are in the same exact predicament as we are in.”
Correction: The Rays (85-79) are now firmly in control their own destiny — leading the American League wild-card race.
After losing their first two here in a critical four-game series, the Orioles (81-73) are four games behind the Rays and, with eight to play in 2013, must jump over at least three other clubs to make the postseason for the second consecutive year.
“Coming into this series, we felt like our backs were against the wall. Really, nothing’s changed,” shortstop J.J. Hardy said. “Our backs are still up against the wall and we’ve still got a shot. Keep grinding and who knows what’s going to happen?”
On Friday, the Rays and Orioles grinded through an 18-inning marathon that lasted 6 hours 54 minutes — the longest game, time-wise, in either franchise’s history — before the Rays won it on a RBI single at 2:05 a.m.
Just 11:04 later, the teams met again Saturday afternoon. The Orioles’ offense apparently slept through its wakeup call.
Featuring six starters who played all 18 innings Friday, the Orioles didn’t get a hit against Cobb until Steve Clevenger singled with two outs in the fifth. The Orioles didn’t score until the ninth on an RBI single by Jones. It broke Baltimore’s string of 19 consecutive innings without a run.
“They played just as much as us last night, a lot of those guys,” Hardy said about five Rays players that also logged all 18 innings Friday. “But Cobb was really good. I don’t think what happened [Friday] night had really any impact on how good Cobb was.”
The 25-year-old right-hander, who is now 7-0 at home this season, cruised through 81
3 innings. Using a sharp split-fingered fastball, Cobb (10-3) allowed five hits, two walks and one earned run while striking out 12.
The Orioles’ only run was set up by Rays left fielder David DeJesus misplaying a flyball by Chris Davis into a triple. It was another historic moment for Davis, who on the play set the club’s single-season, extra-base hit record with 93, passing Brady Anderson’s 92 in 1996.
Jones knocked in Davis and knocked out Cobb, who left to a standing ovation from the announced crowd of 23,835.
“He was pretty much unhittable,” left fielder Nate McLouth said about Cobb. “With that split-finger, he can get so much weak contact and he’s got pitches to put you away with. So you go up there wanting to get him early, but the ball moves so much, it’s hard to make good contact with it.”
The Orioles didn’t use their difficult odyssey over the past two days as an excuse for their offensive woes — they didn’t arrive at their Florida hotel from Boston until 3 a.m. on Friday morning and then played nearly 10 hours of baseball in a 21-hour period.
“There was nobody on that field who wasn’t feeling that game last night, but it didn’t have an effect on the outcome,” McLouth said. “But certainly, everybody on that field was a little tired.”
It seemed obvious early on that both clubs were feeling hungover from Friday’s near all-nighter — and both starting pitchers took advantage of it.
In six innings pitched, Orioles right-hander Miguel Gonzalez (10-8) walked five to tie a season and career high. But he allowed just two hits and three runs, all on a homer by Desmond Jennings in the fifth. Gonzalez walked the first two batters he faced in the inning.
“Cobb was really good. I thought Miggy was good, too. Miggy presented himself real well,” Orioles Manager Buck Showalter said. “Just lost his command there that one inning and couldn’t get back on track, and that was a big difference-maker. You knew it was going to be not a whole lot of run-scoring opportunities the way that Cobb’s been pitching.”
The time is obviously running out on the season. That, says Hardy, is why he and his teammates didn’t consider taking Saturday off after the quick turnaround.
“That’s why we were all in there today,” Hardy said. “Give it all you’ve got. We’ve got eight games left.”
The Rays have won 11 of 17 against the Orioles this year — and if they could pull of the four-game sweep would almost certainly bury their division rival.
If the Orioles can win both of the remaining games against the Rays, they’ll be back to where they started at the beginning of this week: Two games behind Tampa Bay in the wild card. Not ideal, but that’s really the only thing the Orioles can salvage right now.
— Baltimore Sun