Aug 28, 2014; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy (2) hits the game winning one-run rbi single in the seventh inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The Orioles defeated the Rays 5-4. Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

Baltimore Orioles: J.J. Hardy Owns the 7th Inning

The Baltimore Orioles gutted out yet another close game to beat the Tampa Bay Rays on Thursday night 5-4 and win the series 3-1. It also put the Orioles back to a seven-game lead over the Yankees.

The pivotal inning of the game was the seventh, dominated in both the top and bottom halves by J.J. Hardy with a critical play in each.

In the top of the seventh, with the score tied 4-4 and Desmond Jennings on first base, Logan Forsythe hit a soft line drive in front of Hardy as he approached second base to field it. In the split second that J.J. had to think about the play, noting that Jennings held close to the bag at first, Hardy decided to trap the ball rather than catch it. Stepping on second base, he threw on to first to complete the double play. It was slick.

Jennings just stood at first base with a disgusted look on his face.

In the bottom of the seventh, with Nelson Cruz at second base on a two-out double, Chris Davis was walked intentionally to bring Hardy to the plate.  J.J. hit a slider on a soft pop behind first base that fell in for what proved to be the game-winning RBI. It made a first-time Orioles winner out of Andrew Miller, who came back out in the eighth inning to set the Rays down 1-2-3. Zach Britton did the same in the ninth on a total of eight pitches.

Though it might be said that Hardy was lucky to drop a weak fly into no-man’s land, let it be also recalled that he hit into a line-drive double play in the third inning. Both Cruz and Davis hit screaming line drives right at people as well.

It was not the best start for Bud Norris, who nonetheless battled through six innings, giving up four runs on six hits and two walks. Norris is the embodiment of the “stubborn streak” that runs through the Orioles, never giving in and even setting down eight consecutive batters at one point.

Jeremy Hellickson had larger problems than Norris, as the O’s were pretty much onto him over his 4.1 innings of yielding eight hits, including a Steve Pearce home run in the first inning.

The second Orioles run in the first inning was scored on an improbable play. With Jones on third base and Cruz on first, Cruz broke for second base and got caught in an intentional run-down. Jones broke for home and beat a high throw back to the plate for the first steal of home by an Orioles player in over five years.

This double steal was always a great play in little league, but I’m not sure when I’ve seen it done successfully in pro baseball.

All in all, it was a good win for the Baltimore Orioles—the kind of win that good playoffs teams pull out rather than give up. With 31 games to go, even if the Orioles were to only win, say, 14 of them, it would require the Yankees to finish the season 21-10 to tie.

The Orioles now welcome the Minnesota Twins to town for another four-game series. The Twins scored six runs in the top of the 10th inning at Kansas City on Thursday night. They enter with a record of 59-74.

The Twins will throw rookie Trevor May (0-3, 8.79) at the Orioles, who will counter with Miguel Gonzalez (6-7, 3.75).

May was 8-6 with a 2.84 ERA in 18 starts at AAA this year. Opponents only hit .209 against him. This will be his first action against the Orioles or anyone from the AL East.

Gonzalez has virtually no history against the Twins, who have only a combined three at-bats against him from their entire current team.

Tags: Baltimore Orioles J.J. Hardy

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