BALTIMORE (AP) — Cedric Mullins hit a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the 11th inning, and the Baltimore Orioles edged the Tampa Bay Rays 5-4 on Sunday after both teams clinched spots in the postseason.
The winner of this game would have wrapped up a playoff spot regardless, but when Texas lost 9-2 to Cleveland, both the Rays and Orioles were in. Moments later, Adam Frazier doubled home the tying run in the bottom of the ninth off Pete Fairbanks to send the game to extra innings.
That was the first of two occasions when the Orioles tied it while down to their last out. Adley Rutschman hit an RBI single for Baltimore in the 10th, and then DL Hall (2-0) threw a scoreless 11th, retiring the Rays on a popup and two grounders.
Ryan O'Hearn sacrificed the automatic runner to third for Baltimore, giving Mullins a chance to win the game. His flyball to center off Jake Diekman (0-2) was easily deep enough to end it, touching off an on-field celebration in which the players wore orange shits saying “TAKE OCTOBER” on them.
Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash was ejected in the bottom of the ninth.
The Orioles salvaged a split in this key four-game series at Camden Yards and took a two-game lead over Tampa Bay atop the AL East. Baltimore also holds the tiebreaker over the Rays.
Tristan Gray homered in his second big league game to put Tampa Bay ahead in the eighth inning, and Christian Bethancourt followed with a solo shot to make it 3-1, but Rutschman hit a solo shot in the bottom half and Frazier tied it an inning later.
The Texas-Cleveland game ended shortly before Frazier's double down the line in left field made it 3-all. Between the ninth and 10th inning, a message appeared on the scoreboard announcing that the Orioles were in the playoffs, to the delight of the crowd.
Harold Ramírez put the Rays up 4-3 with an RBI groundout in the 10th, but Tampa Bay couldn't hold that lead, either.
Brandon Lowe hit his 21st home run of the season with one out in the first, but Orioles starter Dean Kremer allowed only one more hit in five-plus innings. Tampa Bay’s Yandy Díaz made a diving stop at first base in the third to rob Rutschman of a tying hit, but the Orioles scored an inning later.
O’Hearn hustled out a double when his comebacker caromed off Tampa Bay starter Zack Littell and went through the hole between second and third. He scored on a two-out single by Austin Hays.
The Orioles are postseason bound for the first time since 2016, marking another benchmark for a successful rebuild fueled by their excellent minor league system. Baltimore lost 110 games just two seasons ago before improving to 83-79 in 2022 and taking another big step forward this year.
For Tampa Bay, a postseason berth seemed likely all the way back in April, when the Rays looked dominant in winning their first 13 games. They were eventually passed by Baltimore, but they’ve been able to keep winning despite losing ace Shane McClanahan to Tommy John surgery. Wander Franco, Tampa Bay’s star shortstop, has been on administrative leave while authorities in the Dominican Republic investigate him for an alleged relationship with a minor.
The Orioles head to Houston for a three-game series with the Astros. John Means (0-1) starts for Baltimore on Monday night against Justin Verlander (11-8).
Tampa Bay is off Monday before a three-game home series against the Los Angeles Angels.
AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/MLB
Noah Trister, The Associated Press