Hal Bodley

For O's, venue change of little consequence

Showalter says it pales in comparison to what's going on in Baltimore

For O's, venue change of little consequence

ST. PETERSBURG -- "White pants, gray pants -- it's still baseball between the lines," Orioles skipper Buck Showalter offered before the game.

And that's exactly how the unusual circumstance of the O's playing their "home" game Friday night at Tropicana Field unfolded.

The Rays, behind brilliant pitching that struck out 13 Orioles and two timely fourth-inning hits, won, 2-0.

This weekend's three-game series, originally scheduled for Camden Yards, was shifted to St. Petersburg because of civil unrest in Baltimore stemming from the death of Freddie Gray, who died while in police custody.

It was weird as the O's, wearing their white pants, took the field as the home team and the Rays, in road gray, batted first.

But as Showalter said, from the first pitch, the night belonged to good, old-fashioned pitching-rich baseball. It didn't matter which was the home team.

There were only 9,945 in the Trop, an enthusiastic crowd that took advantage of $15 tickets and, although small in number, was loud and spirited.

Because the Orioles were the home team, none of Tampa Bay's normal promotion and video board presentations were shown. Call it generic.

O's right-hander Chris Tillman retired the first 11 Rays before Asdrubal Cabrera worked a two-out walk in the fourth inning. Evan Longoria followed with a booming double to the left-field corner, Cabrera scored and it was 1-0. James Loney ripped a single to left-center and it was 2-0.

"It didn't feel different, really," said Loney. "They had a lot of fans here. It was pretty even, fan-wise."

The Orioles went down easily, at the hands of starter Alex Colome and four relievers. Baltimore managed just four singles and never had a runner reach second base in the game that took just two hours, 19 minutes.

Showalter refused to use the home-away-from-home scenario as an excuse.

"No, not really. That'd be a very convenient excuse," said the three-time Manager of the Year. "I know it may seem strange for everybody, but once the game starts, they're doing something they've been doing their whole lives -- a baseball game. This is still a good pitching place and that's what the case was tonight. Both teams pitched well."

I mentioned the events of the week -- two postponements, a Wednesday game played at Camden Yards with no fans, the unscheduled trip to Florida and the ugly situation in Baltimore -- may have taken its toll.

"No," Showalter said. "I think what took a toll was that they pitched real well, and that's something they've been doing for a long time here.

"This, probably, as much as any club that I've had -- excuses aren't in their repertoire. They'll tip their hats, but they'll be frustrated by it."

Someone mentioned how there wasn't much normalcy about Friday night's game, prompting Showalter to respond: "If you're constantly looking for normal, you're in the wrong profession."

Tampa Bay rookie manager Kevin Cash said before the game he was certain as it progressed there would be moments that he'd never seen before. One, he mentioned, was the overriding thought the O's would get the last at-bat.

"I'll be thinking about that throughout the game," Cash said.

When it ended, a win that allowed the Rays to hold second place all alone in the American League East with a 13-10 record, Cash said: "It felt pretty normal. I definitely didn't forget that we were the visiting team at any point, so I'm happy about that."

But, Cash added: "The beginning of the game and even leading up to the first pitch was just a little bit of a strange moment."

To their credit, the Orioles have put their games in perspective against the backdrop of the unrest in Baltimore.

"It's a small thing to ask us to adjust to some things compared to other people who've had to make huge adjustments in their lives," said Showalter.

"I hope being here is a positive thing and I hope it's a positive thing when we get back there [vs. Toronto on May 11]. We've got to try and stay in the moment here. Our thoughts and prayers are very concentrated back in Baltimore. Even though we're in another city far away from Baltimore, I think we're still very close to the situation back in Baltimore. Everybody is aware of what's going on."

A key to Showalter's success as a leader is that his philosophy of staying in the moment rubs off on his players.

"There are so many challenges in a baseball season, you have to do it and it's not just us," he said. "Everybody strives to do it in this game, but there's nothing consistent about it. There's no blueprint to hang up on the wall that says, 'Here's what you do now.'

"Yes, it's a little different being the home team on the road. You try to make things as normal as possible, but it's going to be awhile before we feel we're back into our consistency and routine."

In the end, though, it comes down to the game on the field.

"Even the other day at our park [with no fans], once the game started, it was baseball between the lines," Showalter said. "The things you have to do to be successful, you have to do."

And that's the bottom line for the Orioles during these difficult times.

Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for Follow him @halbodley on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.