BALTIMORE — From where he stood near second base, Logan Forsythe saw catcher Ryan Hanigan signal for a curveball.
“Huh,” Forsythe thought. “Let’s see how this works.”
On the mound was Jake McGee, who was in his second inning of pumping high-octane fastballs toward Orioles hitters.
At bat was Manny Machado, whose two-run homer in the eighth started a furious Baltimore rally and who was hitting with two outs in the ninth, the count at 2-2 and the Rays ahead by a run.
And now Hanigan wants McGee to dust off his curveball?
“You like that one?” Hanigan asked later. “Busted it out.”
McGee spun a 77-mph curve that plunged through the bottom of the strike zone. Machado swung over the ball for the final strike in the Rays’ 5-4 victory Saturday at Camden Yards.
“That was awesome,” winning pitcher Erik Bedard said. “They’re definitely not seeing that curveball, so it made him look pretty bad.”
McGee didn’t care how it made Machado look. He just knew Machado was on his high-90s fastball, having fouled three of them off during the at-bat. So in a game the Rays almost gave away, McGee decided for the first time this season to throw his curveball to get a swing-and-miss.
“I tried to throw it low over the plate, and I tried to throw it as hard as I can,” McGee said. “It worked out.”
McGee earned his third save of the season and his second during the first three games of this four-game series that ends this afternoon. He did it the hard way, stopping an eighth-inning rally by the Orioles before retiring the side in order in the ninth to get the final four outs.
As the late afternoon began to unfold, it didn’t appear as if McGee would be needed at all Saturday. Bedard was pitching one of the best games of his life, keeping the Orioles off balance with his curveball and not giving them anything to hit over the plate.
The Rays built a 5-0 lead against Orioles lefty Wei-Yen Chen on the strength of three home runs — a solo shot by Desmond Jennings to start the game and two-run homers by Forsythe and Kevin Kiermaier.
The Orioles used the long ball to get back into the game. Nick Markakis ruined the shutout with a solo home run in the sixth inning and Machado made it a 5-3 game when he clanked a two-run homer off the left-field foul pole with no one out in the eighth.
Grant Balfour came in, got one out, then allowed singles to former Ray Delmon Young and Markakis. After Balfour got Steve Pearce to pop up to Forsythe, Rays manager called for McGee.
Adam Jones managed to bounce a 98-mph fastball through the right side of the infield to score Young and set up the ninth-inning drama.
McGee didn’t provide too many anxious moments in the ninth before Machado stepped to the plate. Chris Davis couldn’t catch up to a 98-mph fastball for the first out and J.J. Hardy bounced a 99-mph pitch to Forsythe for the second out.
But Machado presented a problem, and with the count at 2-2, McGee tied to shake off Hanigan’s signs until the catcher called for the curve. Hanigan didn’t, so McGee tried to pump another fastball past Machado.
“I didn’t like (the curve), and then Machado took another swing (and fouled off the fastball), and I was like, ‘You know what? He’s right.’ I just feel like Machado stays back on the breaking ball pretty good. He’s got a longer swing and I didn’t want him to be on it,” Hanigan said. “But when he took another good swing at the heater, I went to it. I got to have confidence in him to throw that pitch, and if he wants to shake to it, we’ll throw it, for sure.”
Hanigan was comforted by the conviction McGee showed in his curveball by trying to shake to it on the previous pitch.
“I was like, if I throw it low, even if I bounce it at 50 feet, it’s a different pitch,” McGee said. “So after (the foul ball), I was like, ‘OK, throw it down and out of the zone and I’ll be fine.’ ”
He did, and he was.
“You’re not looking for that,” Forsythe said. “You can’t.”