ST. PETERSBURG, Florida—It’s been nearly seven years since the Orioles were in first place this late in the season. That’s unexpected, and for them, delightful.
On Thursday night, the Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays began a four-game series with first place in the American League East at stake. For at least one night, the Orioles will stand alone in first after their 4-3, 10-inning win over the Rays before an announced crowd of 20,203 at Tropicana Field.
Colton Cowser’s sacrifice fly scored Aaron Hicks, who was the automatic runner in the top of the 10th against Robert Stephenson (1-4). Hicks moved to third on a bunt by pinch-hitter Adam Frazier.
Closer Félix Bautista (5-1), who quickly retired the side in the bottom of the ninth, was sent back out for the 10th. After hitting Luke Raley with a pitch, he struck out Randy Arozarena, and Brandon Lowe hit into a 4-6-3 double play.
“How about Félix Bautista? I’m so lucky to have him,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “He’s amazing. He does it again.”
It was Bautista’s third two-inning stint.
“I felt really good the entire time and my mentality was to be prepared to go out there for two innings,” Bautista said through a translator. “After I finished up that ninth inning, the manager came up to me and told me if we score a run, I’m sending you back out there. If we don’t, you’re done for the night. I stayed ready the entire time, and thankfully I was ready to go.”
Bautista made his major league debut at Tropicana Field in April 2022, a year when the Orioles were expected not to contend, and now they’re in first place.
“It feels really good. It’s something we’ve worked for all year long,” Bautista said. “Since the start of the season, this is what we wanted, trying to play good games and trying to dethrone Tampa for the first spot in the division.”
There were plenty of Oriole fans in the lively crowd, and they witnessed a taut game.
“Definitely felt stakes were like playoff baseball,” said Cowser, who played in his 11th major league game. “I’ve never played in playoff baseball. It definitely felt like it could have gone either way. If someone makes a mistake, the best way to handle those things is go out there and play loose and play your game.
“This team has a lot of fun and a lot of smiles going around the clubhouse today after this win. Looking forward to continuing.”
Bautista felt the atmosphere was something he hadn’t experienced before.
“It’s a huge game to take the division lead here, and honestly, I felt really good tonight and felt good about the body of work I’ve been putting in overall,” he said.
The Orioles (59-37) scored three runs in a strange fourth inning. Tampa Bay starter Tyler Glasnow retired the first nine Orioles to face him.
Gunnar Henderson led off the fourth with a triple and scored on Adley Rutschman’s single. Anthony Santander singled, and both runners moved up on a wild pitch by Glasnow.
Rutschman scored on Ryan O’Hearn’s sacrifice fly to left. With two out, Hicks singled to left, and Arozarena’s throw appeared to be in time to tag Santander, but catcher Francisco Mejia dropped the throw for an error, and the Orioles led, 3-1.
Mejia’s RBI single scored Josh Lowe in the second. Mejia would later leave with right knee discomfort.
Tampa Bay scored two runs in the seventh to tie the score at 3. Taylor Wells singled and Christian Bethancourt’s bunt single ended the night for Kyle Gibson. Wandy Diaz doubled against reliever Yennier Cano, and the score was tied at 3.
Gibson allowed three runs on seven hits in six-plus innings.
“You never want to be the team chasing anybody,” Gibson said. “Hopefully, we can keep playing well. There’s a lot of season left. When you’re playing really good baseball against really good teams and you’re coming out on top, it just feels a whole lot better.”
Cano struck out Arozarena to start the eighth, and then Bryan Baker walked Lowe and allowed a single to José Siri. He struck out Josh Lowed and pinch-hitter Harold Ramirez grounded into the hole at second. Ramón Urías made a diving stop to throw Ramirez out, ending the eighth and keeping the game tied at 3.
“It’s just July,” Hyde said. “This team … is so good, and they’re so hard to play, especially here. Such a momentum team, too. We’ve been on the other side of those type of games, I can’t tell you how many times in my fifth year here where we lose those type of games, but we have Félix Bautista now, and that’s a huge difference.”
The Orioles and Rays have three games left this weekend and four in September.
“Even four wins here doesn’t seal anything,” Gibson said. “We’ve got to play two more months of really good baseball if we want to win this division.”
Note: Kyle Bradish (6-4, 3.06) will face Zach Eflin (10-5, 3.59) on Friday night at 6:40.
Minor league update: Centerfielder Jud Fabian and leftfielder Dontá Williams homered in Double-A Bowie’s 10-3 loss to Harrisburg.
Third baseman Maxwell Costes hit a three-run home run and centerfielder Dylan Beavers stole home as High-A Aberdeen beat Bowling Green, 5-2.
Triple-A Norfolk’s game at Gwinnett and Single-A Delmarva’s game against Charleston were rained out.
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