If a team wins for just the second time in 14 games but there's nobody there to see it, does it count in the standings? Fortunately for the Baltimore Orioles, the answer is yes.
Only 15,693 fans were on hand at Camden Yards to watch the Orioles win 7-6 on an 11th-inning Chris Davis walk-off home run, his second of the night. With the exception of the fanless April 29 game that occurred in the wake of the Freddie Gray riots, Wednesday's crowd -- which saw the Orioles just barely avoid getting swept for the third time in their last four series -- was Baltimore's smallest this season. The stands were so empty, the onlookers so quiet, that you could hear individual voices from across the stadium throughout the entire game.
Given the bludgeoning that starter Kevin Gausman suffered, maybe it's a good thing there weren't more witnesses. Despite an ultra-efficient eight-pitch first inning, his quickest opening frame as a big league starter, Gausman lasted just 2 1/3 innings in what ended up being the shortest start of his career. His final frame was especially gruesome.
Of the eight hitters Gausman faced in the top of the third, all but one of them reached based via hit or walk. The only batter who didn't, Rays DH John Jaso, reached on an error when Davis fielded a routine grounder to first and flipped it to Gausman, who was covering but dropped the ball. The lone third-inning out the Orioles did manage to record on their starting pitcher's watch came when catcher Matt Wieters gunned down Grady Sizemore trying to steal second. The frightening frame featured home runs by Evan Longoria and J.P. Arencibia, whose long ball to left field appeared to be foul but was ruled fair after a four-minute review.
"That inning just kind of got away from me," Gausman said.
In spite of Gausman's nightmare on Eutaw Street, the Orioles were able to come back and do something they'd only done once in the last two weeks: win.
Thanks to a four-run inning of their own in the bottom of the third, which included Davis' first homer of the night and a two-run game-tying shot by Jonathan Schoop in the bottom of the ninth -- not to mention quality relief from a bullpen that's been working overtime lately -- Baltimore was able to send the game into extras.
Reliever Brad Brach, who worked two scoreless innings to pick up his fifth win of the season, retired the Rays in order in the top of the 11th. By that point, the crowd was so thin that PA announcer Ryan Wagner invited all the remaining fans at Camden Yards to move down and take the seat of their choosing. Moments later, Davis found a seat of his own -- way out in center field -- and deposited a 3-0 fastball from Rays righty Matt Andriese into it.
According to ESPN Stats & Info, the walk-off blast traveled 459 feet, the longest of Davis' 38 home runs this season and the longest home run by an Orioles hitter since Davis' 466-foot home run in August 2013. It also gave the Orioles, who'd scored a grand total of 12 runs while losing their last six games, their first lead in 53 innings, not to mention the faintest glimmer of wild-card hope as they leave town for a six-game road trip against the Yankees and Blue Jays.
As he watched the no-doubter sail off, Davis finished with flare, sending his bat end-over-end toward the Orioles' dugout. It was an emphatic bat flip that, in any other situation, might have sent the wrong message. But after an abysmal two-week stretch that's tested the will of the Orioles, Davis' message was clear and justifiable: an overwhelming sense of relief.
"Enough is enough," said Davis, who, prior to his ninth-inning home run in Tuesday's 11-2 loss, had just four hits in his previous 39 at-bats, with 22 strikeouts. "Just about everything that can go wrong has gone wrong. Some of it is self-inflicted, some of it's not. We've been scratching and clawing, trying to get a win." And finally they did.
Said Davis: "This was a big one."
So what if there was barely anyone there to witness it?