BALTIMORE (AP) — Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash tried to keep his top relievers rested for this crucial series at Baltimore — and one by one, they came out of the bullpen and shut down the Orioles.
Luke Raley hit a tiebreaking homer in the seventh inning, and Tampa Bay’s remarkable bullpen retired everyone it faced in the Rays’ 4-3 victory over the Orioles on Thursday night. The Rays won the opener of this four-game showdown to pull within a game of first-place Baltimore in the AL East. Their relievers extended their streak to 34 innings without an earned run.
“We’ve spent a lot of time the last 10, 12 days talking about this series, and knowing the importance of our bullpen being fresh,” Cash said. “Minnesota had other plans yesterday, that we had to use a lot of them, but those guys really stepped up in a big way.”
Ryan O’Hearn and Gunnar Henderson homered for the Orioles, but with the game tied at 3, Raley hit a drive to center field off Kyle Bradish (11-7) for his 19th home run of the year.
Randy Arozarena hit a two-run triple in the third for the Rays, and Tampa Bay starter Aaron Civale got Adley Rutschman to hit into a crucial double play in the fifth after the Orioles had come back to tie it at 3.
After that, Civale turned the game over to the bullpen. Colin Poche (12-3), Shawn Armstrong, Robert Stephenson and Pete Fairbanks teamed up to retire 12 straight batters, with Fairbanks striking out the side for his 24th save in 26 chances.
“Their bullpen doesn’t give up many runs, and they haven’t for a while,” Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said. “We had nothing going once we got Civale out of the game.”
Fairbanks had two days off before this game. Armstrong, Poche and Stephenson all pitched Wednesday in a win at Minnesota, but they’d all had two days off before that. The result was a group of relievers who certainly looked like they were in peak form.
“I don’t know if you’ve been around many bullpens, but our level of focus throughout the majority of the game isn’t great,” Fairbanks said. “To go out there and be sequestered for however many innings it is, you’ve kind of got to keep it loose. Obviously, when that phone rings and when we start our prep work, we start getting locked in and go from there.”
Cedric Mullins made a terrific diving catch in the gap in right-center on a ball that might have scored a run in the top of the second. Then O’Hearn led off the bottom of the inning with a homer that put the Orioles up 1-0.
Tampa Bay answered immediately. Third baseman Jordan Westburg couldn’t handle Raley’s leadoff grounder, and that infield single started a three-run rally. Brandon Lowe hit an RBI single, and Arozarena followed with a triple to make it 3-1.
Henderson hit a leadoff homer in the fourth, and then the Orioles tied it in the fifth without hitting the ball out of the infield.
Mullins led off with a bunt single when the ball rolled dead on the dirt about halfway to third base, fair by inches. After a walk by Aaron Hicks, Westburg popped up a bunt, but the ball fell between Civale and catcher Christian Bethancourt for a single to load the bases.
Adam Frazier tied it by grounding into a force play, but Civale then escaped the inning when Rutschman grounded into a double play on the first pitch.
“That was a big part of the game there,” Hyde said. “Bases loaded, nobody out, and we only get one.”
The Orioles called up OF prospect Heston Kjerstad from the minors before the game, and he made his debut in the eighth when he struck out as a pinch-hitter.
Rays: Tampa Bay activated OF Manuel Margot (elbow) from the injured list. He did not play.
Orioles: Hyde said 1B Ryan Mountcastle (shoulder) was feeling better after leaving Wednesday night’s game early, but he didn’t play Thursday.
Tampa Bay sends RHP Zach Eflin (14-8) to the mound Friday night against Baltimore’s Jack Flaherty (8-8). The Orioles will hold a pregame celebration when OF Adam Jones officially retires from pro baseball.