Nick Johnson is the surprising hero of the night; Orioles defeat Rays to open up three-game set

I’m not sure what is happening with the Orioles; however, they are finding ways to win, and Friday night was another example of it.

The Orioles – again – pulled out another come-from-behind victory, as they downed the Rays, 4-3, to kick off the first contest of a three-game set.

If there was a must-win game in May, this might have been it as the Orioles and Rays were tied for the American League East lead on Friday with a record of 20-12.

With the victory tonight, the Orioles are an astounding 21-12 on May 12th and hold sole possession of first place in the American League East. If the Orioles can take two-out-of-three games from the Rays, they will be incredible shape heading into a showdown next week with the Yankees, Royals and Nationals.

Nick Johnson – yes, the guy many wanted off the team in April – has been hitting well in May, and he helped propel Baltimore to victory with a go-ahead, two run homer in the seventh inning off Tampa reliever Joel Peralta. They were down 3-2 before his shot, took the lead and did not look back.

Johnson does have a long, dubious injury history; however, when healthy, the man can swing a bat, get on base and is a ballplayer. Perhaps everything is now coming together for him, and if that is the case, the Orioles do have a valuable player on their hands.

Adam Jones and Nick Markakis also came through as they hit homers – solo shots – to also help the Orioles.

They were held to only two runs by starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson, who went 6 2/3 innings and gave up three runs before the Tampa bullpen took over. Peralta, who blew the save when Johnson homered, took the loss.

The Oriole bullpen was solid once again as Darren O’Day earned the victory, Pedro Strop threw a scoreless eighth inning, and Jim Johnson earned his 10th save of the year. He is a perfect 10-for-10 in save opportunities this season.

Dana Eveland started the game for Baltimore, and he did have a quality outing on the mound, giving up three runs in six innings of work. However, he was truly wild in his night of work, walking six, hitting two batters and allowing five hits.

It seemed that Eveland was off with his control and had the potential to have several ugly frames, but his defense helped him out and able to get out jams. His start was not pretty – in fact, it was ugly – however, he did keep his team in the game and managed to walk a tightrope all night.

Speaking of defense, it may be easy enough to say now that Matt Wieters is the premier defensive catcher in baseball?

With the score 3-1 in the fourth inning and the Rays wanting another run, Elliot Johnson drilled a shot off the right field, just out of Markakis’ reach. He gunned the ball to Robert Andino, who then hurled it to Matt Wieters – who was at home plate trying to prevent Sean Rodriguez from scoring.

Rodriguez – who was out by five feet – crouched into a stance that a running back would use to break a defensive line and barreled into Wieters.

However, Wieters, was knocked over but held onto the ball. Amazingly. The crowd went totally crazy and it was stunning to see him in action, blocking the plate. He was a little shaken up from what I saw, but got his composure and stayed in the game.