18-1 vs. O's? Chalk it up to consistency

Rays quick to praise Orioles' effort after Wendle's 6-RBI game caps dominant season series

August 29th, 2021

BALTIMORE -- Considering the Rays own the best record in the American League and the rebuilding Orioles have the lowest winning percentage in the Majors, it’s fair to believe that Tampa Bay should have the upper hand against Baltimore. But what should happen in baseball is hardly guaranteed to take place, certainly not as often as it did when the Rays and O's took the field this season.

Led by a two-homer, six-RBI performance from , the Rays capped an undefeated two-city road trip with a 12-8 victory over the Orioles on Sunday afternoon at Camden Yards to complete their season series with 18 wins in 19 games.

• Box score

Tampa Bay is just the third team in MLB’s divisional era (since 1969) to win 18 games against one opponent in a single season. The others both came in 2019, when Cleveland went 18-1 against Detroit and Houston finished 18-1 against Seattle.

The Rays have been complimentary of the Orioles throughout the year, praising Baltimore for playing hard and noting that they had to come from behind in 10 of their 18 wins. But to dominate any opponent at that level also reflects Tampa Bay’s consistency, a point of pride for the defending AL champions.

“They're a young team. They come out and compete every single day,” Wendle said. “And I think for us to do the same and to maintain a level of focus throughout 19 games with them is just a testament to just sticking with it throughout the games.”

The Rays won their last nine games at Oriole Park, their longest winning streak at an opponent’s ballpark in franchise history, and came out on top in their last 12 matchups overall. Tampa Bay wound up outscoring Baltimore by 79 (150-71) on the year -- the second-largest run differential against a single opponent in the divisional era, behind only the Dodgers’ +82 mark over the Padres in 1974.

Overall, the Rays have won seven straight games, their second-longest winning streak of the season, and have lost just one of their last 12. Sunday’s victory improved their record to 82-48, clinching their fourth straight winning season -- and the 10th in club history -- while matching the franchise’s all-time high-water mark at a season-high 34 games above .500.

“It shows a level of consistency that we talk about a lot, that they come to the ballpark with, that they put out on the field and just stay at it,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “Proud of the way our guys have gone about it, certainly against Baltimore, but throughout the entire season.”

Sunday’s game turned into a high-scoring affair late, with the Rays scoring nine runs in the sixth through eighth innings while the Orioles answered with six during that stretch. But it began with an encouraging outing from starter .

A week ago, Archer lasted only two innings in his return from the injured list due to left hip tightness. It wasn’t completely smooth sailing Sunday afternoon, but Archer looked much more like himself this time out. He struck out six and walked only one as he allowed two runs on four hits over four innings.

The best part, Archer said, was just finally being able to contribute after spending so much of the season on the sidelines.

“I did what was asked, and it's been a while since I've been able to do that,” Archer said. “So to be out there, get a team win, it felt really good just to play baseball.”

Archer’s fastball velocity, diminished last time out, improved as his start went on. His first fastball clocked in at 88.4 mph, and he topped out at 95.2 mph on a heater to Jahmai Jones in the fourth inning. His trademark slider remained effective, especially after the first inning, as the Orioles missed on half of the 16 swings they took against it.

“He looked good. Heater velo was really nice there toward the end,” Wendle said. “It was great to play behind him. He means so much to this organization, and for him to be back on the mound and contributing again, it's awesome to see.”

Archer said it was also a nice game for his father, Ron, who had a front-row seat at Camden Yards. Ron reminded his son in a postgame text message that he is his favorite Rays pitcher. And his favorite position player on the team is Wendle, who emphatically put an end to his 50-game home run drought.

After getting three early runs off Spenser Watkins on hits by Randy Arozarena and Wendle and a solo homer by Jordan Luplow, the Rays’ lineup went quiet until the start of the sixth inning. Rookie shortstop Wander Franco hit a leadoff single to left that extended his on-base streak to 29 games, the second-longest such streak in AL history by a player 20 years old or younger.

Austin Meadows then launched his 22nd home run of the season out to right, bringing his RBI total to a career-high 91. On the next pitch, Wendle finished off the three-run frame with his first homer since June 9, giving Tampa Bay its third pair of back-to-back homers this season.

Wendle didn’t wait nearly as long for his next long ball.

Facing reliever Paul Fry with the bases loaded in the seventh, Wendle clubbed a 1-1 slider out to right-center field. It was Tampa Bay's AL-leading ninth slam of the season, the third of Wendle’s career and his second this year. That capped just his second multihomer game and a career-high six-RBI performance that helped the Rays withstand the Orioles’ late rallies.

“It was a really big day,” Cash said. “Joey picked us up in a big way. We needed every bit of it.”