Orioles top Rays, 5-2, for first 4-game series sweep at Tropicana Field

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — In July, the Orioles’ magical 2023 season picked up steam at Tropicana Field.

The Orioles and the Tampa Bay Rays entered the series tied atop the American League East, and Baltimore won three of the four games to take a lead it wouldn’t relinquish the rest of the season.

When the Orioles took on Tampa Bay this weekend, it was the first time they’ve played at “The Trop” since. Those Orioles proved they were for real by besting the Rays. These Orioles simply proved this is their new reality by sweeping them in four games.

Baltimore on Monday defeated Tampa Bay, 5-2, to complete its first four-game sweep of the Rays at Tropicana Field since they became an MLB franchise in 1998. Superstar Gunnar Henderson smacked another leadoff homer and ace Corbin Burnes delivered another quality start to lead the Orioles.

The four-game series win is only the Orioles’ third over the Rays in their home ballpark, joining the series in July and one in April 2006. The sweep — in which Baltimore outscored Tampa Bay 25-7 — is the Orioles’ first in 10 tries.

The sweep continues the Orioles’ dominance of the AL East this season. They are 17-6 against divisional foes and 6-1 versus the Rays (31-35). The last time they lost a series to an AL East team was April 2023, a streak of 21 sets.

Baltimore is 43-22 and two games back of the AL East-leading New York Yankees (46-21), whose game versus the Kansas City Royals on Monday has yet to conclude. Since the Orioles were swept by the St. Louis Cardinals to end their AL-record sweepless streak, the club is 14-4 with a run differential of plus-52.

Henderson’s leadoff long ball was the ninth of his nascent career and seventh this season. His 21 home runs rank second in MLB behind Yankees slugger Aaron Judge (24). The 22-year-old AL Most Valuable Player candidate went 3 for 5 and was a triple short of the cycle to improve his OPS to a team-best .974. James McCann smacked a solo homer in the third, and Ryan O’Hearn drove in three runs on two hits — a two-run double in the fifth and an RBI single in the seventh.

Burnes was his usual self Monday, delivering a Cy Young Award-worthy gem. The right-hander allowed two runs (zero earned) in seven innings with six strikeouts. He became the 11th pitcher in Orioles history with at least nine straight quality starts. The most recent to do so was Erik Bedard in 2007. Jim Palmer, of course, holds the record with 12 in 1975.

Setup man Yennier Cano and closer Craig Kimbrel slammed the door for the win. Kimbrel walked the leadoff batter but retired the next three for the 432nd save — fifth on MLB’s all-time list — of his stellar career.

Around the horn

— Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said second baseman Jorge Mateo, who is on the 7-day injured list for concussion symptoms, will likely be back early in the Orioles’ upcoming homestand, potentially as early as Tuesday’s series opener versus the Atlanta Braves.

— The Orioles announced their rotation for the Braves series, and they remain in turn with their temporary six-man setup. Veteran Albert Suárez, youngster Cade Povich and left-hander Cole Irvin will start the three games in order. Will the Orioles stick with a six-man rotation? “I don’t know,” Hyde said. “Honestly, I think we’re taking it series to series right now. A lot of balls are in the air [like] when [Dean] Kremer’s coming back.” Kremer recently threw a bullpen session, Hyde said, and the club is waiting to see how he feels in the upcoming days before determining when he could begin a minor league rehabilitation assignment.

Austin Hays (back soreness/bruised ribs) and Kyle Stowers (wrist discomfort) are “day to day” after missing Sunday’s game and not starting Monday. Hyde said he’s pleased with how his club has managed playing eight straight days on turf surfaces, which can be more difficult on players’ bodies than grass.