BALTIMORE - The Orioles had the bases loaded with no outs and were trailing by two runs in the seventh inning Tuesday when Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon called for Alex Torres, the left-hander who seems suited for those situations.
Remember the time in early June when Torres came on at Detroit with the bases loaded and no outs and the meat of the Tigers order up? Three batters, three outs.
Remember the time a few weeks later in New York when Torres came on with the bases-loaded and one out? Two batters, two outs.
“Don't think I did not think about that,” Maddon said Tuesday night.
And Torres did it again, trading a run for a double play grounder before ending the inning with a strikeout.
The Rays survived the inning with the lead and went on to beat the Orioles, 7-4, at Camden Yards.
The win allowed Tampa Bay, which trailed the Boston Red Sox by four games in the American League East standings just last week, to move back into a tie for first place after the Red Sox lost in San Francisco later Tuesday night.
The Rays, who at 72-52 have two fewer losses than 74-54 Boston, are tied with the Detroit Tigers (73-52) for the least defeats in the AL.
Tuesday's game was a perfect example of how they've gotten there.
Matt Joyce delivered a two-run double in the ninth inning and Wil Myers added a two-run single for what proved to be a pair of big insurance runs for the Rays, who have won six of their last seven games after a humbling 0-5 road trip.
Joyce, moved to the cleanup spot for the game because of his ability to draw walks and because he has been hitting well of late, scored the Rays' first run of the game in the second inning and delivered a sacrifice fly in the third inning that gave them a 3-1 lead.
Alex Cobb, making his second start since missing two months with a concussion, took a two-hitter into the seventh inning before running out of gas. Until then he kept the potent Orioles offense in check with what Maddon called an “elite curveball.”
“Premier curveball,” Maddon said. “I don't know who throws a better one. I don't know who throws a better curveball than I saw (Tuesday).”
Cobb agreed that his curve was awfully good.
“Yeah, and I honestly don't know what is making it that way,” he said. “I'd like to find out. I haven't gotten so many swings and misses on it before.”
The Orioles loaded the bases against Cobb in the seventh on a walk, a single and another walk.
With Jake McGee and Joel Peralta not available because of their recent workloads, Maddon turned the game over the Torres, the rookie left-hander who began the season as the Rays long man in the bullpen and has developed into someone who can get big outs in big situations.
“I said, 'Listen, the base runners do not exist. Just get the hitter out. Don't worry about the base runners.' His focus was good. He threw good pitches,” Maddon said.
The first hitter was Brian Roberts, and he took the first pitch for a ball before grounding the next one toward Evan Longoria, who stepped on third base for one out and threw to Ben Zobrist covering second base for the second.
The run scored, but the next batter, Nate McLouth, was hitting with a runner on first and two outs.
It was the first run Torres has allowed to score during the three times he came in with the bases loaded and one or no outs. But mission accomplished.
“I'll take the two outs there any day of the week,” Maddon said.
Torres said that was his goal.
“That's what I did,” he said. “I just focused on Roberts, tried to get a ground ball for a double play and get two outs.”
Torres then got McLouth looking at a called third strike to end the inning.
“We've seen it a few times this year with the bases loaded,” Cobb said. “I think he's pitching better in that high stress situation than he is with nobody on. It's unbelievable. You don't see it happen a couple of times in a year, let alone (three) times that he's done it.
“Every time he's come in it's been a huge situation for us in the game, not just saving runs for the starter.”
It's almost as if watching Torres work out of such jams is commonplace.
“It still surprises you when you come out with bases loaded and nobody out and he gets out of it,” Cobb said. “I don't think that will ever stop surprising people. It's such a tough feat to do and he's been doing it every time he's called upon.”
Torres enabled Cobb to win for the second time since coming off the disabled list. He's now 8-2 on the season.
“You can't thank (Torres) enough for what he did and how strong an effort he had,” Cobb said.
The Rays appeared to have put the game out of reach with the four-run ninth. Joyce followed an intentional walk to Evan Longoria that loaded the bases with a two-run double to right field.
The walk set up a lefty vs. lefty match up between T.J. McFarland and Joyce, who bounced out to first base in the seventh inning during his first at-bat against McFarland. But he won the second matchup, lining the ball past first base to score two runs and extend the Rays' lead to 5-2.
Joyce was 1-for-2 with two walks, two runs scored and three RBI.
“When he's going well we know that's what we're going to get from him,” Maddon said.
Myers singled home two more for the Rays, and those were big runs since Matt Wieters hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth off Wesley Wright.
Fernando Rodney came in and retired all three batters he faced for his 29th save.