New villain, budding star intensify AL East dramatics

Rays' Raley greeted with boos after hard slide into O's rookie Rutschman

July 26th, 2022

BALTIMORE -- Is there a new public enemy around Baltimore?

That may be the ominous role Rays designated hitter Luke Raley carved out for himself in Monday’s 5-1 Orioles win over Tampa Bay at Camden Yards. It all stems from a play at the plate in the second inning, when Raley swept the leg of Baltimore’s catcher as he was trying to beat out a bases-loaded comebacker to pitcher Austin Voth, only to be forced out at the plate.

It’s important to note that the catcher was Adley Rutschman, the Orioles’ hoped-for franchise cornerstone.

Rutschman avoided injury, quickly mouthing that he was fine and immediately returning to his spot behind the plate. But that didn’t do much to help Raley’s cause with the crowd at Oriole Park.

He was booed mercilessly the rest of the night.

“It was a hard baseball play,” Raley said. “I didn't do anything dirty. I talked to Adley afterwards. He was completely fine with it. He knew there was no dirty intent behind it. … He said, ‘Absolutely, I was trying to quiet the crowd down.’ I respect him for that.”

Said Rutschman: “I just wanted to make sure my foot was on the base and that we got the first out. I didn't really see the play. I was just kind of focused on getting the out.”

The rest of the Orioles also took no umbrage.

“For me, it was a clean play, honestly,” said Baltimore manager Brandon Hyde. “We're so used in this game now to not seeing contact that when you see a little bit of contact, everybody kind of wonders if that was a clean play or not. It was definitely a clean play, and the guy was just going hard in the corner of the plate. Those plays happen.”

“I think it was just a hard play,” Voth said.

That still didn’t help Raley’s case. He immediately heard boos after the slide, which forced Rutschman to land awkwardly in front of the plate after completing the out. Raley heard boos again an inning later, before and after he hit an opposite-field double in the top of the third. He heard them again before his fifth-inning strikeout (which elicited a rousing ovation from the crowd) and again before connecting for his second double, in the eighth.

Raley even heard them after advancing to third on a wild pitch, after the double, with the Rays down four in the eighth.

“I wasn't surprised, after the commotion that happened after the slide,” Raley said. “It is what it is. I didn't do anything dirty. I was trying to help the team win.”

Promoted on July 10 amid a swath of injuries, Raley isn’t exactly a household name, a former seventh-round pick with only 43 career big league games under his belt entering Monday’s series opener. But he’s a villain in Charm City now.

Asked if he’d ever been booed that much, Raley smirked.

“No, I haven’t,” he chuckled.

Rays manager Kevin Cash said he had “no issue whatsoever” with Raley’s slide or the attention it garnered. Immediately after the play, Hyde asked the umpiring crew to check for interference, but he did not challenge (the play is not challengeable). After a brief conference, no ruling was made.

“Fans got excited,” Cash said. “I liked the way that Luke handled it, and certainly Adley was very receptive. They made sure each other were all right.”

The Orioles have had their share of skirmishes the last few years, like their benches-clearing bit with the White Sox on June 24 and Hyde’s verbal dustup with Robbie Ray and Alek Manoah on September 10. But the last real target of Baltimore fan ire was former Blue Jays slugger José Bautista, who for years irked O's teams with real postseason aspirations in the mid-2010s.

Raley is a different kind of character, and whether he grows into full villain status probably depends on whether the slide generates any lingering on-field animosity. To hear the Rays and Orioles react late Monday, it probably won’t. But the fan reaction was notable nonetheless, because unlike in Bautista’s case, it came in defense of a budding star of their own.

It was also evidence of a division matchup that’s suddenly much more competitive than it’s been lately. The Rays are 7-6 against the Orioles this season, after going 18-1 in the season series in 2021, and they lead Baltimore by only four games in the standings.

“We know they’re a team that’s trending in the right direction,” Cash said.