Chen impresses on mound as O's bats come to life
Left-hander turns in sharp 6 1/3 innings, lineup churns out early runs
BALTIMORE -- What did the Orioles need more -- a quality pitching performance from someone not named Chris Tillman, or the lethargic lineup coming to life?
It didn't matter Monday night. They got both.
Backed by an outstanding effort from Wei-Yin Chen over 6 1/3 innings, Baltimore's offense roared to life, smacking Rays starter Chris Archer around for a career-high seven earned runs en route to a 7-1 series-opening win at Camden Yards. After a rocky start to the season, the O's (6-7) have to hope games like Monday will become more of the norm.
It was hard to find something not to like, with the O's flashing the leather early and often, piling on runs in four of the first five innings off Archer and Chen not allowing a hit until one out into the fifth. The Orioles needed a win like this, a team victory, and Chen -- who had allowed 21 hits in 10 2/3 innings coming in -- needed an outing like Monday to get on track.
"I would say [I need this] pretty bad," Chen said through his interpreter of his first quality start this season. "Because in my last outing, my teammates did a fantastic job scoring well for me but I didn't do a really good job."
This time the O's lefty -- who exited to a standing ovation -- retired the first 10 batters before issuing a one-out walk to Desmond Jennings in the fourth. After James Loney's one-out double the following frame put the Rays in the hit column, Chen briefly got into some trouble with Brandon Guyer singling after that. But the defense came through, turning an impressive double play on Yunel Escobar's grounder to end the inning.
"I thought they centered a lot of balls off him," manager Buck Showalter said of Chen, who got the breaks when necessary. "We were fortunate tonight. Real good defense. Three double plays. Two behind him. They hit a lot of balls hard. Fortunately, we had people where they hit them."
The Orioles excellent defense included Ryan Flaherty's game-opening snag of Ben Zobrist's hard liner and Chen making a nice play to retire Escobar with one out into the third. Chen needed just 32 pitches to get through the first three innings, cruising for most of the evening and scattering five hits -- four singles -- with a pair of walks. He was replaced by righty Evan Meek after recording the first out in the seventh.
"The big thing is he was able to stay down in the zone, which is huge," catcher Matt Wieters said of Chen's fastball, which had more life Monday than in his previous two starts. "He was able to get strikes at the knees, which kind of makes all hitters a little bit more [antsy]."
Wieters was the exact opposite, going 3-for-4 with two runs scored, to back Chen's effort. After he put the O's on the board with a two-out center-field single in the first, J.J. Hardy started the second with a double off the glove of a sliding Jennings. Hardy moved to third on Steve Lombardozzi's groundout, scoring when Flaherty flicked Archer's pitch into left field against the shift. Nelson Cruz and Chris Davis, who narrowly missed a homer, pushed it to four with back-to-back RBI doubles.
"I thought we were pretty selective, got some counts, and then whatever mistakes he's going to make ... he's a good pitcher," Showalter said of Archer, who allowed 12 hits over five innings. "Timing means everything. I wouldn't expect to be that fortunate off Archer many times."
The Orioles jumped on the young righty, who finished third last season in American League Rookie of the Year voting, and tallied four runs over the first two innings. Archer, who had allowed two runs combined in two starts coming in, gave up five doubles as the O's used a well-rounded attack to take an early lead and never look back.
"I think he's smart enough to know he didn't have to change anything tonight," Rays manager Joe Maddon said of Archer, who is part of a Tampa Bay rotation that has already lost two starters. "Just, they just got him on some bad pitches. They didn't miss them. He didn't get away with anything. They made us pay for every bad pitch we made."
Chen was considerably more fortunate, blessed by the "baseball gods," as Showalter pointed out after Monday's win. He allowed just one run, on Evan Longoria's sixth-inning RBI single, over the 99-pitch performance to give the Orioles their fifth quality start in 12 games and his first of the season. Meek went 1 2/3 scoreless innings to follow him -- marking his sixth scoreless outing -- while Darren O'Day navigated through the ninth, getting a double play to end the game.