This time, Hernandez plays hero
Rays' Pena homers again to tie, but catcher wins it in ninth
ST. PETERSBURG -- Two days, two home runs, two different results. The Orioles saw an eerily similar situation brewing Saturday night, when Carlos Pena drilled a late game-tying homer off Jamie Walker for the second straight day. But instead of succumbing to another loss, Ramon Hernandez homered in the ninth inning to give Baltimore a 3-2 win over Tampa Bay.
Two statistical streaks worth mentioning got broken in the process. Walker hadn't allowed home runs in consecutive appearances during the same season since 1998, and he had held Pena to an 0-for-5 mark with four strikeouts before 2008. One turn on the calendar later, Pena seems to be hitting everything Walker throws to the plate.
"Last night I got beat on a bad pitch. I felt tonight I made a decent pitch. Decent pitches don't leave the yard," said Walker, who allowed just six homers last year. "Obviously, he's seeing something off me. ... He's hitting like Babe Ruth off me the last two nights. Deep down I'm a little [upset], but we won the game and that's what matters."
"All you can do is keep trying," added Hernandez. "He's not going to be perfect every day. He's going to have bad times and he's going to go through good times. All we're trying to do is pick up each other. And that's going to make teams win in baseball, picking up each other. Some guys are going good right now and some going bad.
"And when a guy is going bad, the other guys pick him up. You play team baseball."
Baltimore's brand of team ball had it ahead in the late innings for the second straight game, which meant a chance for instant redemption for Walker. The southpaw had allowed Pena's second home run Friday night, a three-run blast that pulled Tampa Bay (5-6) into a tie game. But instead of redemption, Walker found himself looking at some repetition.
Pena led off the eighth with a towering fly over the right-field fence, erasing a lead Baltimore had held since the first inning. Instead of getting demoralized, though, the Orioles (7-4) found a way to fight back. Reliever Dan Wheeler got two quick outs in the ninth, but Hernandez poked a ball far up the left-field line to provide the final margin.
"The cardinal sin is not to get beat late in the game," said Baltimore manager Dave Trembley, who used his veteran situational relievers to take over from starter Daniel Cabrera. "We got beat late in the game on Pena and they get beat late in the game with Wheeler on Ramon. There's a lesson to be learned on both sides of the coin there."
Cabrera had taught some lessons of his own, holding the Rays down with his fastball alone. Trembley spoke enthusiastically before the game about Cabrera using a slider instead of a curveball, but Hernandez said the hulking right-hander only threw around 10 breaking pitches all game. Whatever Cabrera was doing, it was working.
Tampa Bay got two runners on base in the first inning, but Cabrera settled down after that. The Rays only got one hit and drew one walk from the second inning through the fifth, and Cabrera kept anyone from reaching scoring position. The home team didn't score until the sixth inning, and Cabrera escaped that threat by coaxing a key double play.
"He's got to do that more often," said Trembley. "His tempo was pretty good, and he got ahead most of the time. Even when he did walk people, he was [ahead]. ... He didn't try to nibble with his fastball. We just told him yesterday when we got here, 'Just throw your fastball for strikes, pitch inside with it and when you have to, elevate it.'"
Baltimore scored twice early off Tampa Bay starter Jason Hammel, who settled down and pitched stronger as the game progressed. Leadoff man Brian Roberts doubled and stole third base in the first inning before scoring on a double play, and Hernandez tripled in a run in the second inning on a ball that center fielder B.J. Upton dove for and missed.
Seven innings later, Hernandez broke Tampa Bay's back with a solo shot to left field.
"I'm Ramon's biggest fan right now," said Walker, while adding that he also felt bad for Cabrera. "... He has nothing to show for it. As a pitcher, it hurts you inside. ... But that's a plus. He got us there. We've just got to keep plugging away."
Left-hander George Sherrill pitched a perfect ninth inning for his fifth save, helping shore up one of Baltimore's biggest weaknesses from last season. He gave up two long fly balls Saturday, but hasn't blown a save this season.
Right fielder Nick Markakis got hit by a pitch in his left wrist during the eighth inning, but stayed in the game. Markakis, who went 1-for-3 with a single, said that he'd likely be back in the lineup on Sunday.
"It just scared me a little bit," he said. "It went numb and it came back. It's fine now."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.