BALTIMORE — Baltimore Orioles slugger Chris Davis sent a history-making homer onto Eutaw Street, and the club’s late-inning bullpen dynamic had a different look Wednesday night. But the play that might have saved the season for Baltimore likely will go overlooked in the box score.
Orioles Manager Buck Showalter often talks about the trust he has in his players and the faith they have in each other. He wanted them to play aggressively, and the way the Orioles recorded the final out of a much-needed 4-2 win over the Tampa Bay Rays on Wednesday night was a prime example.
With runners at the corners and two outs in the ninth inning, Kelly Johnson — representing the tying run for the Rays — took a tremendous jump off first.
Catcher Matt Wieters didn’t hesitate, rifling Tommy Hunter’s 0-1 pitch — a swinging strike — to second. The throw scooted low and skipped just in front of the base, but shortstop J.J. Hardy swiftly picked it and in one motion tagged the sliding Johnson for the final out before an announced 28,323 at Camden Yards.
“It was huge,” said Davis, whose major league-leading 46th homer tied Jim Gentile (1961) for the third-highest single-season home run total in franchise history. “It fired me up. I thought my heart was about to explode in my chest there for a minute. We had another nail-biter. But that’s what you expect down the stretch: close games, playoff-type atmosphere. But to get that throw off on a guy who got a good jump and the pick really was just huge for us.”
After losing the first two games of this pivotal series, the Orioles (68-58) were able to avoid a sweep. With the win, Baltimore is 4½ games back of the Rays for second place in the American League East and within three games of the Oakland Athletics — who come to Baltimore for a three-game series that starts Friday — for the second AL wild-card spot.
Showalter turned to Hunter — who has pitched in myriad late-inning roles — to close the game in the ninth instead of Jim Johnson, who is reeling after three straight blown save opportunities.
Darren O’Day, who pitched a scoreless eighth, allowed a leadoff single to Wil Myers in the ninth, and Brian Matusz walked pinch-hitter James Loney. After Hunter retired the next two Tampa Bay hitters, Wieters threw out Johnson to seal Hunter’s fourth career save.
“There was a couple of unbelievable plays made, and that’s what it takes to win,” Hunter said. “That’s a high level of baseball being playing out there, and these guys stepped up today.”
— Baltimore Sun