February 2, 2023

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'We don't quit': O's win on 3rd walk-off in 4 days

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BALTIMORE — How much excitement can one week take?

The Orioles, by three swings of the bat and one anticipated debut, posed that question across four consecutive games.

And once Rougned Odor dribbled a ball up the first-base line, a walk-off fielder’s choice in the 11th inning for a 7-6 win over the Rays on Sunday, the Orioles departed Camden Yards wanting even more. It was Baltimore’s third walk-off win of the week — a three-run homer from Anthony Santander on Thursday against the Yankees and a two-run homer from Odor in the 13th on Friday before a far different game-winning stroke from him on Sunday.

They all boiled down to one core tenet of the 2022 Orioles.

“We don’t quit,” said Orioles manager Brandon Hyde. “We grinded.”

The grind simply resulted in the Orioles winning via walk-off three times within four games for the first time since Sept. 25-29, 1974, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Patience was a virtue across Baltimore this weekend. The biggest was for Adley Rutschman, the Orioles’ top prospect who debuted on Saturday three years after he was drafted first overall, eliciting an “emotional overload” when he finally reached the Majors.

But it reared its head in a far different way on Sunday. Facing a 6-4 deficit, as clouds swarmed Camden Yards and lightning struck in the distance, Baltimore rallied off Tampa Bay’s ailing bullpen. Moments before a 51-minute rain and lightning delay, a crack of Austin Hays’ bat ensured the Orioles would take the final swing of the game.

And Odor didn’t waste it, scoring, of course, Rutschman from third, Odor’s softly-hit ball skipping past Rays first baseman Ji-Man Choi.

“I don’t know what it is,” Hays said. “I think Roogie brings a lot of grit and just hard-nosed baseball to this team. You see how well he’s been hitting late in games, big-time situations, pinch-hitting situations. I think that’s gone to the rest of the hitters in the lineup. I think he’s a huge piece of that, just mindset-wise, and just never quitting.”

It matters to these Orioles how they won. On Sunday, it was after seeing starter Spenser Watkins exit the game after just 13 pitches, a 105.9 mph comebacker striking his right forearm and causing a contusion.

“I really didn’t know what we we’re gonna do,” Hyde said.

But six bullpen arms instead stepped up. Unlike in years past, they gave their offense a chance to remain alive. Never was the vibe more apparent than when Cionel Pérez stranded five runners in the extra frames, embracing Rutschman — who had to move to catcher — on the foul line in screams and exuberance.

And unlike the early games of the 2022 season, the offense came through.

“Our pitching being a lot better this year, it just gives the offense a chance,” Hays said, speaking to the ability to steal more bases and force opposing pitchers into pressurized situations. “ … It allows our offense to do some of the things that they can’t do when we’re losing by seven or eight runs every night.”

“Everybody contributed,” Hyde said. “Our guys played to the end.”

It also matters to these Orioles whom they beat. The first walk-off, from Santander, avoided a sweep to the American League East-leading Yankees in a week that saw their New York rivals publicly criticize their home ballpark. But it turned out to be merely a table-setter.

And then two more came. Odor’s blast on Friday broke a string of 15 straight losses to the Rays. One more O’s defeat would have put them in a tie for fourth in MLB history since 1969 in consecutive losses to a single franchise.

But on Sunday, they set out for New York with their first series win over Tampa Bay since their first matchup in 2020.

“We’ve lost a lot of close games to these guys over the years,” Hays said. “… We don’t want to lose those games anymore.”

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