Wieters does it from both sides of the plate
Catcher throws out Crawford twice, hits walk-off homer
BALTIMORE -- They may have come to the ballpark as strangers, but they left leave as significant others.
The Orioles and Rays sat down for 100 minutes in rain delays Wednesday and came back to finish their game in front of an intimate crowd of perhaps a few hundred fans. That small gathering got to see a seesaw ending, as Ben Zobrist homered for Tampa Bay and Matt Wieters answered to give the Orioles a 4-2 win.
"I think at some point in time this year, I've signed an autograph for each and every one of them. They all knew me by my name and I knew who they were," said Baltimore manager Dave Trembley. "I was hoping somebody would say, 'Come on over, I've got a soda or a hot dog or something.' Fame is fleeting around here. I know how it goes. I saw a lot of people who are familiar faces and regulars on my e-mail list and regulars on the video journal call-in and down the right-field line that I sign autographs with, so it was kind of like family at the end."
That family crowd got to see a pair of bookend landmark performances for two of Baltimore's most celebrated young prospects. Chris Tillman pitched perhaps the best game of his brief career before the rains came, and Wieters threw out Carl Crawford twice on attempted steals and then hit his first walk-off homer at any level.
Baltimore's momentum had seemed to be stopped short by the rain and jostled by the Zobrist homer. Closer Jim Johnson, who had warmed up before the rain delay, came back out to pitch the ninth. He got one out before Zobrist hit a rocket to center field, and then Wieters answered in kind with a two-run shot to left-center.
"It's a situation where you might bunt, but he gave me the sign to swing away and try and drive something," said Wieters, who had driven in five runs Tuesday. "They gave me confidence to swing away and I was going to look for a fastball early and try to put a good swing on it and I was fortunate enough that it carried out."
Tillman, just 21 years old, retired the first 10 batters he faced on Wednesday and didn't allow any runners to reach scoring position until the sixth inning. Former Oriole Gregg Zaun broke up his shutout with a solo homer in the sixth, and Tillman would leave in the seventh inning with two outs and two runners on base.
"You've got to be happy with how Tillman pitched and his approach. It was pretty darn good," said Trembley of his starter's performance. "You got the sense that early in the game, there weren't gong to be a lot of runs and there wasn't going to be a lot of offense, so you were looking to break through one way or the other."
"I feel like I was more efficient with my pitches," added Tillman, who has allowed two earned runs or fewer in four of his 10 starts. "I felt like I located my fastball a little bit better. When I needed it, I had my offspeed stuff, too, curveball and changeup. I could have thrown my changeup a little better ... but I felt good tonight."
The Orioles (60-85) had been waiting for that type of take-charge performance from Tillman, and they gave him all the fuel he needed with two early runs. Melvin Mora doubled in the second inning and tagged up twice to provide the first run, and Luke Scott doubled high off the right-field scoreboard in the fourth to make it 2-0.
Tampa Bay (73-73) saw two chances scuttled by aggressive baserunning. Crawford provided the road team's first hit in the fourth inning but was thrown out attempting to steal. He then reached on another hit in the sixth but was thrown out on a steal again, marking just the second time in his career he's been caught twice.
And if that wasn't enough, Wieters came back later on to provide the game-winning hit. Scott drew a walk to start off the bottom of the ninth, and moments later, Wieters ended the game with a looping shot to left-center. After that, he just had to get around the bases and meet his teammates at home plate for a raucous celebration.
"He's going to do it here for a long time," said Trembley of his catcher. "This has been a tremendous season for him to learn, to go through some struggles. We told the team the other day that one of the goals we had coming down here the last three weeks of the season was, 'Let's leave here and make a positive impression on your teammates and on your coaches and the people in the league.' We've got an awful lot of young guys whose eyes have been opened. I think they've learned a great deal. I think they understand a lot more about themselves and how difficult success comes in this game. The good ones, they're going to find a way to get it done."
Tillman said he still felt fresh in the seventh inning, but he also said that Trembley made the right decision to bring Matt Albers into the game. Albers retired the lone hitter he faced, keeping Tillman's decision intact. The right-handed rookie has completed six innings six times in 10 starts and considered Wednesday his best start.
"I just wanted to work fast, get my team back in the dugout, especially after we scored that [first] run," said Tillman of his outing. "It was huge to get back in the dugout. I made one mistake and obviously Zaunie turned that pitch around pretty quick. It was a fastball away, it came back in the middle and he did what he did with it."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.