ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — The Tampa Bay Rays kept swinging until they finally found a way to win.
Matt Joyce hit a towering homer to lead off the bottom of the ninth inning and the Rays twice came from behind before a wasting a late two-run lead in an 8-7 victory over the Baltimore Orioles on Wednesday night.
Joyce began a rally from a 5-4 deficit with a pinch-hit bunt single in the seventh and won it after closer Fernando Rodney, one of the keys to the Dominican Republic’s dominant run to the World Baseball Classic title, blew a save opportunity by allowing a run for the first time since last Aug. 18.
“You wouldn’t think that would happen, but I guess they say everything happens for a reason,” Joyce said of Rodney, who gave up a run for the first time in 20 appearances dating back to last season.
Rodney (1-0) also was on the mound for the final out in all eight of the Dominicans’ victories in the WBC and did not allow a run.
“To get the first win out of the way, and to have it in dramatic fashion kind of seems to be the Rays way,” Joyce said. “We’re going to have fun this year.”
Shelley Duncan hit a three-run homer and Ben Zobrist had a pair of RBI singles for Tampa Bay. Brian Roberts’ RBI double off Rodney in the ninth made it 7-all.
“It was entertaining for most people here. Didn’t like the way it ended, but good things happened. We’ll dwell on those,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “Wei-Yin presented himself well. Chris Davis continues to swing the bat. … I liked the way our guys kept fighting back.”
Davis went 4 for 4 for the Orioles, hitting a three-run homer for the second straight day and driving in four runs. He also had an RBI single and two doubles.
Much to the delight of Rays manager Joe Maddon, the left-handed hitting Joyce bunted up the third base line to beat Baltimore’s defensive shift in the seventh.
He won it leading off the ninth by pulling a pitch from Tommy Hunter (0-1) over the right-field wall.
“In that situation, I’m just trying to get on base and play the game,” Joyce said of the bunt. “Joe always talks about playing the game and taking what they give you. And in that situation that’s all I tried to do, just get on base and hopefully somebody would drive me in. If they’re going to give you the opportunity, then go ahead and take it.”
Duncan’s first hit for his new team finished a four-run sixth that wiped out an early 4-0 deficit. The Orioles regained a one-run lead in the seventh, only to watch the Rays answer with three more runs to go ahead 7-5.
But Baltimore wasn’t finished, scoring on Matt Wieters’ RBI single in the eighth and Roberts’ tying double.
Pedro Strop, the second pitcher to follow Orioles starter Wei-Yin Chen, was unable to hold the 5-4 lead Baltimore took on Nate McLouth’s run-scoring single in the seventh.
Joyce bunted for a single in the seventh and later scored on a wild pitch. Pinch hitter James Loney’s double off Strop put the Rays ahead, and Zobrist’s second RBI single of the night made it 7-5.
“I was right there. I was making good pitches … Balls were just able to find holes,” Strop said.
Davis’ homer came off Rays starter Jeremy Hellickson, landing in the mostly empty stands in left-center field. After drawing a sellout crowd of 34,078 on Tuesday, attendance was announced as 15,599 for the middle date of a three-game series.
The 27-year-old Chen won a team-leading 12 games as a rookie last season, the most wins by an Orioles pitcher since Erik Bedard won 13 in 2007.
Desmond Jennings, Evan Longoria and Jose Lobaton led off the first three innings against the left-hander with singles, but each of them was erased by double plays.
Down 4-0, Tampa Bay broke through in the sixth. Zobrist chased Chen with a two-out RBI single and Duncan’s homer made it 4-all.
NOTES: The Orioles have scored 14 runs in two games, 13 of them with two outs. … Dating to last season, Davis has four homers in his last five games against Tampa Bay. … Rodney, who did not get into the opener, brought a scoreless streak of 19 innings over 19 appearances into the season. … The 25-year-old Hellickson will receive the Gold Glove he won last season before Sunday’s game against Cleveland. In being chosen a co-winner with Jake Peavy, Hellickson became the youngest pitcher since to be honored with the award since Bret Saberhagen in 1989.