BALTIMORE—Austin Hays had watched so many Orioles losses during his early years in Baltimore, and now he gets to play in important games, games that matter, even if the season isn’t yet a quarter over.
Hays recalled the bad times and now he’s thriving in the good times.
“To show up to the park, knowing you’re going to have a chance to win every game that you play is a phenomenal feeling after some of the big losses,” Hays said.
“Being out of it in the third, fourth inning a couple of years ago. We’ve come a long way really fast and that’s all you can ask for as a competitor, to show up and have a chance to win every game, night-in and night-out, so it’s a great feeling.”
The Orioles had won 18 of 23 games, nearly all against sub-.500 teams before entering a more competitive stretch. In six games against the teams with the best records in both leagues, the Orioles lost two of three games in Atlanta and after losing the first game to the Tampa Bay Rays, the Orioles won the final two games for a 3-3 split.
“We felt like we were in those games,” Hays said. “We had a really good chance to win the series in Atlanta, to be in that same situation here. To have a hard-fought game again, good pitching on both sides and just try to find a way to have timely hitting and score some runs to get the lead and have the bullpen do their thing.”
On Wednesday night, they got six excellent scoreless innings from Dean Kremer, and thanks to two runs in the sixth, pulled out a 2-1 win over the Rays before 14,395 at Oriole Park.
Kremer allowed just four hits in those six innings.
“Very pleased,” Kremer said. “Regardless of who it was against, but I’m glad it’s against teams of that caliber.”
It was his second consecutive quality start. Against Atlanta last Friday night, Kremer (4-1) gave up a run on six hits in six innings. The Rays did not get a runner to third in his six innings.
“Two of the better offensive teams,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “Right at the right time. We talked about how well he pitched in Atlanta, and tonight, even better. He’s figuring it out and learning how to pitch and got some double play balls when he needed it.
“That’s a tough lineup to navigate through and he did an outstanding job.”
In the bottom of the sixth, Adley Rutschman began the inning with a single, and moved to third on Anthony Santander’s double. Yonny Chirinos (1-1) walked Ryan Mountcastle. The fourth ball was due to a pitch clock violation.
Adam Frazier grounded into a force play, enabling Rutschman to score. Hays’ single to center scored Santander, and after Gunnar Henderson walked, the Orioles (24-13) failed to add on as Jorge Mateo fouled out and Ryan O’Hearn flied to right, both on the first pitch.
“The Atlanta series was a little bit of a bummer,” Hyde said. “Winning that first one and having opportunities to win the next two, and didn’t, but we come in here against these guys, who are very difficult to play against because their pitching is so good and their lineup is the best in baseball right now. They do a lot of things really, really well, and I thought we’ve pitched extremely well the last six games.”
Austin Voth retired Tampa Bay (29-9) in order in the seventh, and with one out, Wandy Diaz doubled and scored on Wander Franco’s single. Danny Coulombe relieved Voth and struck out Randy Arozarena and Harold Ramirez to end the eighth.
Yennier Cano retired all three batters he faced in the ninth for his third save.
“It’s unbelievable. I’m glad I’m playing defense behind him and I’m not in the box,” Hays said. “It’s an uncomfortable at-bat, got a lot of movement, a tough arm angle, throws hard. He’s doing a great job for us, and he’s throwing a lot, too. He’s been nails for us. He’s awesome.”
Cano was pitching for the third time in four games because Félix Bautista threw 29 pitches in saving Tuesday night’s game.
“It’s still early,” Hyde said. “Definitely take your chances with the stuff both those guys have in the back end of a game. They’ve proven it over and over again that they’re extremely hard to hit.”
After an off day on Thursday, the Orioles play three against the Pittsburgh Pirates, who despite losing nine of 10, still lead the National League Central. The Orioles trail Tampa Bay by 4 ½ games in the American League East.
“I know you guys talked to us a lot in spring training about expectations,” Hays said. “We were expecting this from ourselves. To come in and have a chance to win every night.
“I think we’ve grown a lot the last couple of years. We’ve learned how to win these tight games, minimize some of the damage, just continue to fight, and now we’re coming out of the other side of these games that we were losing a lot of the close ones last year.
“We’ve kind of turned that page. I think that’s what good teams do, whether you’re hitting, you’re picking up the pitching staff or the pitching staff is picking up the hitting when guys aren’t doing well. We seem to be doing that now and finding a way to win, however.”
Notes: Mychal Givens allowed two runs on a hit and a walk in 2/3 innings in Double-A Bowie’s 3-2 loss to Harrisburg. Givens is scheduled to pitch on Thursday. Shortstop César Prieto had two hits and raised his average to .380. …Jake Lyons (3-1) pitched four scoreless innings, allowing just one hit and striking out nine as High-A Aberdeen beat Hudson Valley 3-2. Third baseman Max Wagner hit his fourth home run.