The Baltimore Orioles have started the second season of their rebuilding project by missing nearly four months due to a pandemic, and when play finally began, their first opponents were Boston, the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay.
When the Rays came to town Friday, the Orioles rallied for a win, and took a different route to victory on Saturday, winning in 11 innings after wasting a late three-run lead. Now, Baltimore can pull off a surprising sweep of Tampa Bay with a win in Sunday afternoon's match-up.
Preseason projections pegged the Orioles' playoff chances as very slim, but they are 4-3 and in second place in the American League East behind the Yankees.
"It's a special feeling in this clubhouse," said Baltimore starter Wade LeBlanc, who pitched well in Saturday's 5-4 victory in 11 innings. He allowed just one run in 5 1/3 innings.
Pat Valaika came up with a walk-off single in the bottom of the 11th as Baltimore played its first game in extra innings, which features the new rule of each team starting each inning with a runner on second.
The new format also enabled the Orioles to make some baseball history. When the Rays' first batter of the 10th inning, Yoshi Tsutsugo, lined out to left field, Baltimore left fielder Cedric Mullins threw out Ji-Man Choi at third for a double play. According to the Orioles, that was the first "leadoff double play" in baseball history.
The Orioles' biggest problem going into Sunday is how much their bullpen -- heavily used in the first two games -- has left. Manager Brandon Hyde is confident the relief corps can be there if needed.
"I think we're OK," Hyde told the media. "I think that we'll [be able] to piece it together."
That's why they'll need a strong effort from starter Tommy Milone (0-1, 12.00 ERA), who stepped in for John Means on opening night in Boston but lasted just three innings. Milone is 3-4 with a 6.75 ERA in eight games, including five starts, in his career versus the Rays.
Chris Davis missed Saturday's game with knee issues, and Jose Iglesias did not start but pinch-hit.
The Rays have dropped four in a row now. They lost the last two games of their series in Atlanta as well.
Since this is just a 60-game season, Tampa Bay knows it can't fall too far behind early in the playoff race.
"We cannot let that happen," said Willy Adames of the Rays, according to MLB.com. "We cannot go into a losing streak for too many games, because there's not a lot of games to come back. We need to cut it off. Everybody is in a positive vibe and go out there and play, help each other, try to take care of each other and try to pick up each other when somebody makes a mistake."
That's why their pitching is so important as the offense has been up and down during the last few games.
Yonny Chirinos (0-0, 0.00) gave up only one unearned run in four innings during his first start of 2020, a Tampa Bay victory in Atlanta. The Rays need a similar effort to slow the Baltimore bats, which keep manufacturing runs, along with showing some surprising power.
Also for Tampa Bay, according to MLB.com, two-way player Brendan McKay was approved to play on Friday after a pair of negative COVID-19 tests. He was optioned to the alternate training site as he's been out since early July.
MLB also announced that the Miami Marlins and the Orioles will make up the four-game series they lost last week due to COVID-19 issues. They'll play in Baltimore from Tuesday to Thursday -- one date being a doubleheader, and the Marlins getting to be the home team twice. Baltimore was supposed to play the Yankees on Wednesday, but that will be rescheduled.
--Field Level Media