ST. PETERSBURG -- Brandon Hyde called it a “give you a heart attack kind of game.” He also called it a “character win.” Those definitions, at this point, are one in the same for the young Orioles, who fought back after blowing a three-run lead to salvage Thursday’s 6-5 series finale from the division-leading Rays at Tropicana Field.
It was Joey Rickard who provided the heroics, his game-winning double off Diego Castillo in the 11th proving the deciding blow. But the contributions came from all over, and had the Orioles celebrating on their late-night flight back to Baltimore.
That feeling came thanks to these four key moments, which led to the O’s first extra-inning win of the year.
Davis sets the table
After weeks under a national microscope, Chris Davis mainly spent this week in the shadows, hindered by a stomach virus that’s kept him off the field for days. When he emerged from the Orioles dugout Thursday, it was discreetly -- as an eighth inning defensive replacement in a three-run game, his lineup spot a full turn through the order away.
He ended up helping decide the fate of a series he’d barely appeared in.
Still not feeling one hundred percent, Davis played a key part in the Orioles’ decisive 11th-inning rally. He socked a two-strike single, aggressively advanced to third and then scored on Rickard’s game-winning double. The knock, in particular, marked another sign of progress for Davis, who is now 5-for-13 since snapping his historic hitless streak last weekend.
“He sparked us,” Hyde said. “CD was ready to play.”
Rickard does it all
Rickard called it “just a coincidence” that his big night came against the Rays, who drafted, developed and left him unprotected in the Rule 5 Draft three Decembers ago. But since, he’s been more productive against his former organization than any other opponent in his career, hitting .311/.336/.566 in 36 games vs. Tampa Bay.
Thursday only extended that trend, with Rickard contributing in a variety of ways even before his game-winning double in the 11th. He matched a career-high with four hits, reached base five times, stole a base was positioned perfectly to haul in Daniel Robertson’s long fly out in the eighth, which, at the time, stranded the tying run at third. It all added up to a banner night for Rickard, who entered play hitting .149 over his first 19 games.
“It just shows how gritty we are. It’s a big win for us,” Rickard said. “This game is really hard, and when something goes your way, it’s kind of a relief.”
Mullins lays out
Things could not be going much worse at the plate for Cedric Mullins, whose offensive struggles were overshadowed by Davis’ in the early going, but are arguably just as stark. Another hitless night Thursday dropped Mullins average to .089, the lowest among qualified Major League hitters over the season’s first few weeks. But he has done well not to carry those issues over to the field, where he may have saved Thursday’s win with a lunging play in the 11th.
“That’s a pick-me-up play,” Hyde said. “He’s not off to the start he wanted to start the season with. He just continues to play good defense out in center field. He made a huge play to help us win and contribute and happy to see that.”
The second-year center fielder had to traverse 59 feet in 3.8 seconds to reel in Wily Adames’ sharp liner, which likely would’ve scored Robertson from first had it dropped. Had Mullins miscalculated, the speedy Adames could’ve motored all the way around with the winning run had the ball skipped by.
Instead, Mullins reeled in what Statcast registered as a four-star catch -- and arguably the biggest play of the Orioles’ season to this point.
Means to the rescue .. again
No retelling of this game is complete without mention of the game-tying, ninth-inning home run Mychal Givens allowed to Avisail Garcia, which disappeared beyond the Tropicana Field catwalk some 447 feet from home plate. But that only set another stage for John Means, the rookie left-hander who continues to handle big assignments with aplomb.
“He’s been a factor,” Hyde said. “No doubt he’s a factor.”
Pitching for the first time back in a relief role that may be temporary, Means secured the final six outs to notch his second win and lower his ERA to 1.72 across six appearances. That success has the Orioles hoping to use him in a variety of ways, both in the rotation and as an option to provide length out of the bullpen. Thursday, he struck out the side in the 10th and was aided by Mullins’ diving play in the 11th, before striking out Garcia to end the game,.
“Honestly, I’m just happy to be here,” Means said. “I’m just happy to have a role, to be in this spot, to be in this position. I want to have that role of doing whatever they want me to do.”