In a full night of Major League Baseball, the biggest Friday game was between the Tampa Bay Rays and Baltimore Orioles in Camden Yards. The Rays prevailed, 7-1, and now have tied the Orioles atop the American League East.
The Rays opened the season 13-0 and were 57-28 with a 6 1/2 game lead moving to July. A terrible Rays month teamed with the steady play of the Orioles meant that a four-game series between these two teams from July 20-23 was for first place. In that series, the Orioles took three of four. Baltimore had held onto first place ever since; the last time the Rays held a share of first was July 21.
The win Friday moves the Rays to 92-57 on the season while the Orioles are 91-56. The Orioles are still on top by percentage points, but we go by the difference in games in the standings and with that method it's a first-place tie.
We know all about the Rays' injury woes in the rotation (Jeffrey Springs, Drew Rasmussen and Shane McClanahan) while Tyler Glasnow at this point is their ace. That has all overshadowed the quality work the Rays are getting from Zach Eflin this season. He was in the spotlight Friday evening and took full advantage.
In fact, he took a no-hitter into the sixth inning. He allowed a hit to the first batter in the sixth, but the game was basically over by then with the Rays having spotted their starter a seven-run lead.
Eflin would end up striking out eight without offering any walks. He gave up just the one hit and run in seven innings of work, which we'll get to below. He saved some bullets, too, as he only needed 84 pitches.
Flaherty continues to struggle
Common sentiment before the trade deadline was that the Orioles needed rotation help. The one starter they were able to trade for was right-hander Jack Flaherty from the Cardinals. He was outstanding in his first start with the ballclub, bringing back memories of the Flaherty who once finished fourth in NL Cy Young voting. He was adequate next time out but posted a 9.72 ERA and 1.92 WHIP in his next four outings.
Friday against the Rays, Flaherty coughed up three runs on six hits in four innings. He now has a 4.89 ERA and 1.55 WHIP on the season and it's possible he won't even make the Orioles' postseason rotation at this point.
Rays power up
It was a scoreless tie through three innings in this one and then Brandon Lowe of the Rays hit a home run to get the scoring started.
That was the 20th homer of the season for Lowe. He joins Yandy Díaz, Isaac Paredes, Jose Siri and Randy Arozarena as Rays with at least 20 home runs. That's the first time in franchise history they've had five 20-plus HR players. They could add two more to that mix, too, because Luke Raley has 19 home runs this season and Josh Lowe has 18.
Lowe wasn't alone in this one. Harold Ramirez hit a three-run home run to break the game open in the sixth. Arozarena and Josh Lowe doubled while Manuel Margot had two doubles in a three-hit, two-RBI game.
The Rays pounded out 11 hits in all.
Big moment for Kjerstad
Orioles rookie Heston Kjerstad, playing in his second career MLB game and first start, collected his first major-league hit. It broke up Eflin's no-hitter and got the Orioles on the board, as it was a home run.
Kjerstad is the latest in a long line of Orioles' position-playing prospects. Several have already flashed their promise at the big-league level (Adley Rutschman, Gunnar Henderson) and several are still on the way (such as Jackson Holliday).
While it was huge moment for Kjerstad and fun to see, it made little impact on this specific game.
Two more games to go
This series still has games left on Saturday and Sunday and they are rather significant. The division is tied up right now, as mentioned earlier, but the Orioles still hold a 6-5 lead in the season series. Remember, there aren't tiebreaker games anymore after 162 games. The first tiebreaker is head-to-head record. If the Orioles only manage to win one game this series, they'll hold the advantage there and the worst they'd be is tied in the standings. That means if the Rays want to control their own destiny moving past this series, they need to complete the four-game sweep.
Tyler Glasnow (9-5, 3.15 ERA) gets the ball for the Rays on Saturday against Grayson Rodríguez (5-4, 4.88 ERA) of the Orioles.