Thursday night at Camden Yards, the Baltimore Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays opened a four-game series with major ramifications in the AL East. It is the last regular season meeting between the two rivals and they entered Thursday's series opener separated by only two games in the standings.
That gap is now down to one. Rays outfielder Luke Raley clubbed a go-ahead home run in the seventh inning Thursday to give Tampa an eventual 4-3 win (box score). Four Rays relievers combined to retire the final 12 Orioles batters to close out the win, including six via strikeout. Here is Raley's homer:
The Rays took an early 3-1 lead Thursday, then the Orioles tied it on a Gunnar Henderson solo homer and an Adam Frazier fielder's choice. Baltimore loaded the bases with no outs in the fifth inning but Aaron Civale was able to limit the damage to one run on Frazier's fielder's choice thanks to an Adley Rutschman double play. The O's did not have another baserunner in the game.
Here are the AL East standings following Friday's game. Baltimore's one-game lead is their smallest since July 22.
- Baltimore Orioles: 91-55
- Tampa Bay Rays: 91-57 (1 GB)
- Toronto Blue Jays: 80-66 (12 GB)
- Boston Red Sox: 74-72 (18 GB)
- New York Yankees: 73-73 (19 GB)
Of course, the Orioles and Rays are both locks to reach the postseason. The AL East title is up for grabs, though, as with it will come the No. 1 seed in the AL, a Wild Card Series bye and home-field advantage through at least the Championship Series. Skipping the Wild Card Series is an enormous advantage. Both teams want that bye.
It should be noted the Orioles only have to win one game this weekend to clinch the season series and, thus, the tiebreaker over the Rays. With the tiebreaker, Baltimore would be named the AL East winner if they finish the season with the same record as the Rays. That's not far-fetched. The tiebreaker decided the NL East just last season.
The O's and Rays will continue this four-game series Friday night. Trade deadline pickup Jack Flaherty (1-2, 6.66 ERA with Baltimore, 8-8, 4.98 ERA overall) will be on the mound for the home team. Tampa will send Zach Eflin (14-8, 3.53 ERA) to the mound.