BALTIMORE -- As is customary per starting pitcher routines, Charlie Morton arrived at Oriole Park on Saturday to prepare for his nightcap start later than the rest of the club. He wasn’t there to witness most of the afternoon's deflating 2-1 loss, but if he had been, he would have seen an offense held to just three hits -- all consolidated in one inning -- and one run against an anemic Orioles pitching staff while Tampa Bay's own bullpen coughed up a lead late.
No one could have blamed the Rays if a maddening frustration had set in between doubleheader games, which came after Tampa Bay had scored a season-high 16 runs Friday night. But when Morton ultimately greeted his team, he saw none of that.
“I don’t think we have the kind of group that’s that reactive,” he said. “I didn’t see that at all. I just saw some guys that knew it was going to be a long day at the park and still showed up for Game 2.”
And show up they did, rebounding for a 12-4 win in the nightcap by scoring first, often and timely via six long balls -- tying a club record -- and multi-RBI games from four players. It backed up a start that could disappoint only the 2019 version of American League Cy Young Award front-runner Morton: two runs and six strikeouts across six innings.
Michael Brosseau started the scoring with a two-run shot -- the second long ball of his career -- in the second inning off the Orioles’ own All-Star, lefty John Means, who was forced into his worst start of the year. Both Brosseau and Nate Lowe would collect multi-homer games -- making it five homers in Lowe’s past six games -- after back-to-back jacks in the ninth took any possible air out of the Orioles’ sails. The pair of rookies combined for seven RBIs.
“Once that [first] game ended, we cleared the heads a little bit, hit the refresh button and knew we needed to split the [doubleheader], at least,” Brosseau said. “I think we came out with a gun-blazing mentality, and it paid off.”
“It was really encouraging just to see us separate the game, and I know we had a hiccup there in Game 1,” manager Kevin Cash said, "but to see two out of three games where we’ve really, really swung the bat well."
Tommy Pham and Yandy Diaz notched the other dingers, sandwiched between Brosseau’s first and Lowe’s second -- the tack-ons around some modest Orioles scoring that proved to Cash that his team would be fine by night’s end. The six homers tied a club single-game record, last accomplished on May 7, 2009, against the Yankees.
And all that backed up yet another solid outing from Morton, but one he had mixed feelings about. The Orioles’ only scoring before garbage time came when Morton ran into trouble in the fourth. He loaded the bases, and Stevie Wilkerson -- the culprit of Game 1’s winning homer -- laced a two-run single to right before Morton later escaped and followed up with clean fifth and sixth innings.
All told, the recently minted All-Star was forced to throw 97 pitches by the end of his night, a majority of which were his trademark curve, which induced four swinging strikes and nine called. And woe is he with a league-leading ERA so low that two runs in six innings ballooned it from 2.32 to 2.35.
“Just another professional, outstanding outing from Chuck,” Cash said.
“That’s pretty gracious,” the self-critical Morton responded.
“I thought it was a pretty sloppy, and there were some parts where I felt I didn’t do a really good job pitching. I felt I was flipping in some breaking balls there,” he added, before a pensive pause. “I really don’t know how to look at that outing. I’m glad it turned out the way it did.”
Really, the only question facing Morton for the remainder of the season is workload. He’s already at 118 2/3 innings and on pace to outwork any total of his career. And don’t forget that he’s 35.
“He’s done a lot of special things for us, but at some point, all pitchers, we find, need a [rest],” Cash said. “Two hundred and twenty innings is just not the way we drew it up coming out. I know we’ve leaned on him hard, but I’m sure him, [pitching coach Kyle Snyder] and myself, we’ll come together to figure out what’s best for the team, and adding in Charlie’s opinions of spots to do that.”
But if the offense keeps plugging like it has in two of three games in Baltimore so far, maybe a night off for Morton could be a non-issue.