Orioles 4, Devil Rays 2
This is about the time when the Baltimore Orioles were supposed to really sink, when a season that had turned ugly was supposed to get even uglier and a fan base already disheartened was to get even more disheartened.
But the Orioles are showing that nothing, neither the return of a suspended player nor the introduction of a new manager, will be a distraction. Perhaps too late, Baltimore is showing a resiliency it lacked for two months.
With a 4-2 victory Thursday against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, the Orioles swept a team for the first time since June 15. Showing perhaps how much things have changed since then, the team the Orioles swept were the Houston Astros, who at that time were not very good, while Baltimore was still in first place. Baltimore is playing its best baseball in almost two months in the midst of two monumental distractions.
"That's my job to see that they play with some energy and life," Orioles interim manager Sam Perlozzo said. "I'm sure a couple of guys were due to get hot. We do it as a team. It was due."
It had been so long since the Orioles could show some swagger against a lesser foe. Baltimore scored runs in the second, fourth and sixth innings to win the game and starter Bruce Chen was masterful for seven innings. A questionable call gave the Devil Rays their only two runs.
The game almost turned on Eduardo Perez's disputed two-run home run that narrowed the score to 3-2. With Aubrey Huff on second base, Perez sent a drive to left-center field. The ball on first glance appeared to have hit a fan in the bleachers. Third base umpire Gerry Davis initially ruled the ball in play, meaning it would be a double since Perez was standing on second base.
Tampa Bay Manager Lou Piniella quickly emerged from the dugout and argued with Davis, who agreed to confer with the other umpires. After a short summit near second base, Perez's double was changed to a home run.
Replays showed Davis's original call may have been correct. The fan appeared to have reached over the fence to touch the ball. Had the fan stayed away, it would not likely have landed in the bleachers.
Rafael Palmeiro, returning from his 10-day suspension, did not factor into the game but was a conspicuous presence in the dugout. At one point he approached rookie Alejandro Freire and offered advice.
"I just wanted to get back into the flow of the game," Palmeiro said after the game. "I was giving him a little bit of advice about what I had seen from their pitcher and what kind of tendencies he had. I think it helped him; he got two hits after that."
The three-game sweep didn't do much to put the Orioles back into contention. The first-place Boston Red Sox, who were idle Thursday, won Tuesday and Wednesday. It has almost gotten to the point in the season where regret outweighs optimism. What if Javy Lopez, who had three hits, including a home run, had been healthy the entire season? What if Perlozzo had been the manager all along?
"A lot of credit goes to Sam on that, coming in and creating a positive atmosphere and making sure guys are pulling for one another," right fielder David Newhan said. "It's an amazing thing. It may sound corny, but it's an amazing thing to have everyone pulling for each other. You don't have to like a guy off the field, but when you come in this clubhouse and play with a guy during the game, they are the ones who are family."