June 17, 2014

Game 69: Sands' Blast Sinks Orioles

Jerry Sands, right, celebrates with Evan Longoria and Logan Forsythe after blasting a two-run pinch-hit homer in the eighth inning, putting the Rays ahead 5-3.

It always disheartens me to write these recaps the day after a loss, especially after a demoralizing loss like last night. The Orioles looked to get back on the right track after a frustrating loss on Sunday against and saw a huge opportunity against a sputtering Rays offense.  Especially comforting was the fact that the Orioles hottest starter, Wei-Yin Chen was on the hill against young Jake Odorizzi.

Tampa got off to a great start, with an early Yunel Escobar solo homer to give the Rays an early lead. Odorizzi cruised through the first 5 innings, only allowing an infield single to JJ Hardy in the second that led to another scoreless frame.  Tampa, had no problem getting runners on, as they hit Chen extremely hard throughout his 6.2 innings last night. Chen allowed 5 extra base hits in his start and got into additional trouble in the fourth when James Loney reached on a leadoff double to start the bottom half.  With one out and Loney now on third, Ryan Hanigan crushed a ball hung over the plate into the left field seats to make it 3-0. The way Odorizzi was pitching, it seemed like an insurmountable lead for the Birds.

Fortunately, the Orioles would finally get to Odorizzi in his last inning of work in the top of the sixth.  Nick Markakis got the rally started as he doubled to the opposite field.  After Manny Machado flew out to left, Adam Jones sent a pitch deep into the left field bleachers to cut the deficit to one.  For Jonesy, it was his 12th homerun of the season as his power surge continues into the road trip.  Brad Boxberger would then relieve Odorizzi with a rising pitch count and would get the final two outs to stop any further damage.

Chen would go on to toss 1.2 more scoreless innings to turn the game over to Darren O'Day, who allowed a single to his first batter and who subsequently get Yunel Escobar to flyout to center to end the 7th.  After Joel Peralta pitched a scoreless 7th, former Oriole (for about 12 hours) Grant Balfour was summoned from the pen a tad early to pick up a hold.  Balfour, who had failed his physical before the season which prevented him from joining the Orioles as their replacement for Jim Johnson, has struggling mightily this season and has already been relieved on his closing duties this year.  Balfour would only last three batters, as Markakis and Machado led off with back-to-back singles in an attempt to notch the game at 3.  After getting Adam Jones to pop up, hard throwing Jake McGee came into escape the jam created by Balfour. McGee who usually gives the Orioles problems, would surrender one of his inherited runners as Chris Davis worked a walk to load the bases and Nelson Cruz reached on an infield single to plate Markakis to tie the game. The ball was bounced straight up in the air and by the time it got to Longoria, he didn't have a play to any base.  JJ Hardy would then strikeout on a pitch away and McGee escaped by getting Pearce to bounce into a fielder's choice.

The tie game would not last long however, as Darren O'Day would quickly walk Evan Longoria to put the go-ahead runner on to start the bottom of the 8th. After striking out Ben Zobrist and inducing a flyout from James Loney, David Dejesus was summoned from the bench to pinch hit for Sean Rodriguez.  However, Buck was not fond of the matchup and brought in Brian Matusz to take care of the lefty. Once the pitching change was made, Joe Maddon, resident genius, brought in Jerry Sands off the bench to pinch hit as a right hander. After a ball to start the at-bat, Matusz hung an inside fastball  slightly over the plate and Sands demolished the offering over the left field foul pole to make it 5-3.  Sands, an MLB journeyman, who's only had 36 plate appearances since 2012 delivered the knockout blow to the Orioles' comeback attempts as he joyfully rounded the bases and was greeted in the dugout by the entire team after delivering once again for the team.  A game before, he had broken three bats on consecutive pitches only to send an RBI single into the outfield to put the Rays ahead of the Astros.  The sheer joy expressed by the entire Rays' dugout seemed to spark the team that has struggled so much at the plate that it has garnered visits from "witch doctors" to awaken their bats.  Sands was greeted with a chorus of cheers from the robust crowd of nearly 11,000 fans at Tropicana Field last night (had to get that jab in there).

To close out the game, Maddon brought in Juan Carlos Oviedo to pick up his first save in nearly three years. Seemed like he was shaking off the rust as Delmon Young launched a pinch hit solo homerun to left to cut the lead in half.  Unfazed, Oviedo would then get Markakis and Machado to pop out to the infield to end the game.  You can chalk it up to just another tough loss for the Orioles who once again had their chances throughout the game but could not capitalize.

Tonight's starters features returns of two friendly faces as Miguel Gonzalez takes on Erik Bedard, each sitting at 3-4 on the season, looking to get back to .500.  For Gonzo, this is his first start since he was sidelined by injury and was eventually replaced by Kevin Gausman, who will pitch Wednesday.  After back-to-back losses, this is a crucial game for the Orioles as they do not want to drop a series to Tampa Bay and revive their team that really needs a boost at this juncture of the season.

Also, I would be remiss if I didn't dedicate this post to one of the best hitters in our generation/all-time that passed away yesterday.  Tony Gwynn will always be remembered for his mind-boggling hitting statistics that place him amongst the greatest hitters that ever lived.  An amazing player and even more amazing person, the news sent shockwaves throughout the baseball community and the tremendous outpouring of tributes was a sight to see.

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