O's overcome Rays in 8-7 win

Corey Patterson has 3 RBIs, including two run homer By Dan Connolly

September 05, 2010|By Dan Connolly, The Baltimore Sun

There's a certain stigma associated with the word "spoiler" in baseball. It means a team isn't good enough to be in playoff contention so it must derive satisfaction from beating successful clubs.

Frankly, the Orioles haven't played well enough down the stretch in the last decade to warrant the spoiler tag, routinely stumbling in August and September against contenders.

Under new manager Buck Showalter, however, the Orioles have already turned in their first winning August in 13 years and now, with their 8-7 victory over the American League Wild Card-leading Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday, they seem to be inching closer toward spoiler status.

"It's kind of in the back of our minds a little bit," said center fielder Corey Patterson, who had three RBIs including a two-run homer in the third. "We know that team is fighting for something. It's kind of basically our playoffs in a sense. It shows we can play with anybody I think, whether they are at the top of the division or middle of the pack."

On a sun-splashed Sunday afternoon, in front of an impressive announced crowd of 28,268, the Orioles (51-86) clinched their first series victory against the Rays since April 2009. They had either lost or tied the previous nine series against Tampa Bay (83-53).

"We know what we're up against. We know we're in the best division in baseball," said right fielder Nick Markakis, who had two hits and two RBIs. "We know what we've got to do. We've just got to put it all together, and lately it's looking that way. It's looking good."

The Orioles jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning Sunday and were ahead 4-1 in the sixth before the Rays scored four runs and batted around against Chris Tillman and reliever Jim Johnson.

Tillman, making his first big league debut in six weeks, lasted 5 1/3 innings, giving up three runs on six hits and three walks while striking out four. All the runs came on homers — a solo shot to Ben Zobrist in the third and a two-run blast by Evan Longoria in the sixth that Patterson nearly caught at the wall.

"It was a good initial outing, keeping in mind he's a 22-year-old young man, six or seven weeks from his last start up here," said Orioles manager Buck Showalter. "I'm sure he had a lot of emotions running out there. … He gave us a really good chance to win."

Tillman retired one more batter after Longoria, and then was pulled for Johnson, who surrendered a two-run homer to B.J. Upton to give the Rays a 5-4 lead. Although he didn't factor into the decision, Tillman was much better Sunday than he was the last time he faced the Rays — when they bashed him for eight runs in 2 2/3 innings on July 19, punching his ticket to Norfolk.

"It was in my head, and I had to tell myself that I've just got to carry it over from what I've been doing [at Norfolk] and go out there and just do the best I can," said Tillman, who had a 3.34 ERA in 21 Triple-A starts but a 7.92 ERA in six previous big-league games this season. "[Saturday] night [the anxiety] was definitely there, but I woke up [Sunday] morning and I had to clear my head and get ready for this game."

Johnson was on the hook for the loss, but the Orioles scored four runs in the bottom of the sixth against the Rays' bullpen. Dan Wheeler (2-2) aided the rally by walking two of the three batters he faced, No. 7 hitter Craig Tatum and No. 8 hitter Cesar Izturis. The Orioles' offense took advantage, getting consecutive RBI singles from Josh Bell, Brian Roberts and Markakis and then a Luke Scott sacrifice fly.

The Rays closed within one run in the seventh when Rocco Baldelli, who was recalled from the minors Sept. 1 after being away from club for two years, hit his first home run of 2010. The two-run homer against Michael Gonzalez closed the gap to one run.

But Alfredo Simon (4-2) recorded three, key fly ball outs in the eighth, and eventually was awarded the win via official scorer's discretion due to the length and effectiveness of his outing compared to the other relievers. Koji Uehara pitched a perfect ninth, including strikeouts of Tampa sluggers Ben Zobrist and Evan Longoria, for his sixth save.

"We were all joking. Everybody kind of turns when Koji strikes out Longoria and goes, 'It's over. That's it. There's no more outs,'" Showalter said. "The eighth inning was probably the key inning of the game, but I'm not going to sit here and tell you [getting out] Zobrist, [Carl] Crawford and Longoria weren't pretty key, also."

It was just the second time this season in 14 chances that the Orioles have won the rubber match of a three-game series. It also gave Showalter his fifth series win in 10 since taking over Aug. 2. The club had just four wins in their first 34 series previous to his hire.

The win also left Showalter searching for a word better than the dreaded "spoiler."

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