ST. PETERSBURG, Florida—For once, it was the Orioles capitalizing on physical and mental errors. Entering the ninth inning tied at 3, the Orioles scored six runs — because of aggressive play and shoddy Tampa Bay defense.
By the time the inning was over, the Orioles had equaled their biggest inning of the year and doubled their best ninth inning of the season. Then they sweated out a bad outing by reliever Richard Bleier before Shawn Armstrong got the final out to secure a 9-6 win over the Rays on Wednesday night.
The win broke a three-game losing streak and gave the Orioles a day off to savor one of their more unlikely wins of the season.
Anthony Santander, who was batting for Chris Davis, led off the ninth with a walk against Tampa closer Jose Alvarado. Rio Ruiz bunted Santander to second, and he advanced to third on a wild pitch.
Pedro Severino bounced to short, and Santander, running on contact, beat the throw home for the go-ahead run.
Jonathan Villar’s sinking line drive to center skipped past Guillermo Heredia, scoring Severino. Trey Mancini bounced to short but Willy Adames’ throw was kicked out of catcher Mike Zunino’s mitt by Villar, whose run made it 6-3.
Chance Sisco reached on an infield single when Alvarado didn’t cover first in time. Renato Nunez put the game out of reach, as it turned out, by crushing a three-run home run to left, his 19th.
“I thought we played the game pretty well, especially that inning, that ninth inning,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “We did a lot of things really, really well — things that we’ve talked a lot of about … the bunt, the contact reads, the patience at the plate against a tough closer that was struggling with his command. We just did a lot of good things well.”
Bleier entered the bottom of the ninth with the six-run lead and quickly gave back three. Armstrong came in and struck out Tommy Pham on a 3-2 pitch for the final out with the tying run at the plate.
“We haven’t had a whole lot of come-from-behind wins or late-game wins,” Hyde said. “I was really happy with our at-bats and how we played the game, obviously, in that top of the ninth.
“With the six-run lead, you feel like you should be able to hold that. It’s baseball, and things happen. [Bleier’s] done a nice job for us in the last few weeks. It’s just they stayed on some balls, hit some line drives the other way on him. Shawn Armstrong made a big pitch, and fortunately we won.”
Mychal Givens won his first game since September 24, 2017. He had lost 11 consecutive decisions since then. And he might have made the play of the game.
Givens came in for the eighth after starter John Means pitched seven strong innings. Givens allowed a leadoff single to Travis d’Arnaud. Pinch-runner Kevin Kiermaier stole second and advanced to third on Pham’s bouncer to first.
Yandy Diaz grounded back to Givens, and he saw Kiermaier breaking for home. Givens alertly charged the plate and tagged Kiermaier to prevent the go-ahead run from scoring. Givens’ background as a shortstop was in evidence on the dive to tag Kiermaier.
The Orioles had taken a 3-1 lead in the fourth on Ruiz’s fifth home run, a three-run shot. It was Ruiz’s first since May 16.
Means allowed an unearned run in the third when Joey Wendle scored from third on Ruiz’s bad throw to second on a relay.
Rookie Mike Brosseau homered in the fourth, the first of his career, and Tampa Bay tied it in sixth when Diaz doubled and scored on Avisail Garcia’s single.
Means’ night: In his final start before the All-Star Game, Means equaled his career high by pitching seven innings. He allowed three runs, two earned, on six hits, striking out five without walking a batter. His ERA remains at 2.50.
“It’s just going to get better because I was going five innings and now I can go deeper into games,” Means said. “That’s one of the things you try and work on.”
Means has made six consecutive starts of five innings or more with two or fewer earned runs, the longest streak since Wei-Yin Chen had seven such starts from June 4-July 12, 2015.
“I was really hoping we’d get him the win,” Hyde said. “I just thought he pitched really well … Pitched ahead in the count really well. I don’t think he was behind hardly anybody — no walks, and that was huge. John Means is a really good pitcher, and has proven it.”
Despite the bizarre ninth, Means was confident the Orioles would hang on.
“I knew we had it the whole time,” Means said. “I know it got a little sticky at the end. But I knew that with our pitchers, we were going to pull it out.”
Lots of strikeouts: The Orioles struck out 14 times. They’ve struck out more than 10 times in the last four games, the first time this season they’ve done that.