Now, that was a win.
The Orioles need every one they can get at this point in the season.
And they got one to remember Friday night before a crowd of 30,094 that came out for a pair of Orioles’ high socks and left with high drama.
The game ended with Tampa Bay’s Mikie Mahtook being thrown out at the plate on what was a perfectly executed relay from left fielder Michael Bourn to third baseman Manny Machado to catcher Matt Wieters, who made an excellent tag on Mahtook’s cleat.
It preserved the Orioles’ 5-4 victory, kept them two games behind the Boston Red Sox in the AL East race and made sure that closer Zach Britton’s perfect record of converted save chances this season remained intact.
The fans, which have been criticized this year for low attendance in a competitive season, went crazy – definitely making it feel like a playoff atmosphere.
“It was the most exciting game that I’ve played this year and I expect that there’s more coming,” said Orioles outfielder Hyun Soo Kim through interpreter Danny Lee. “So I’ll enjoy every bit of it.”
Friday’s game had its unenjoyable moments for Orioles fans, too. Ubaldo Jimenez, who has been so good in his last four starts, gave up two-run homers in the first and second innings and put the Orioles in a 4-0 hole. But he found his groove and threw five scoreless innings after that.
The Orioles, again, looked like they would refuse to chip away at the Rays’ lead without a homer, scoring two runs in the first six innings on solo homers by Pedro Alvarez and Chris Davis.
They scored one run on a Kim single in the seventh – it should have been a grand slam or an out. Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier made a great play to knock the ball down, but he couldn’t quite hold on. The Orioles then left the bases loaded on strikeouts by Machado and Davis.
The Orioles’ Twitter community was in an all-out revolt over the club’s lack of small ball in the seventh, but that changed in the eighth on a RBI single by J.J. Hardy and a sacrifice fly by Bourn.
The inevitable had to happen, right? Another save by Britton, who had converted all previous 43 chances this year.
He picked up the first two outs, and then Mahtook singled off the second-base bag. That set up Alexei Ramirez’s single down the left field line.
Bourn, who was acquired in an August trade because of his ability to run and play defense, had shifted to left field when Drew Stubbs entered the game in the ninth as a defensive replacement in right field. He scooped up the ball in the corner, threw to Machado who rocketed the throw to Wieters.
“I don’t know too much about Mahtook, but I figured if there was any time to push the envelope it was right there,” Britton said. “So I was just trying to get back behind the plate. I saw Michael got a good jump on it, so I was just hoping we had a play at the plate. You get the ball in Manny’s hands right there, more times than not you’re out, and he did a heck of a job.”
Game over. Sort of. The Rays challenged the play, questioning whether Wieters legally blocked the plate.
“I knew what they were thinking. I knew it wasn’t safe or out, it was whether or not I was blocking the plate,” Wieters said. “But knowing the rule, I made sure that the ball was released and it was kind of taking me in that way before I kind of closed in a little bit there.”
It took 23 seconds on review to announce the game was over. That the Orioles won. That Britton got his 44th save. That Bourn helped his new team on both sides of the ball.
What a game it was.
“Everything has to be earned and our guys know that,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “Nobody’s going to give it to you. You’ve got to earn it. Our guys did tonight.”