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TB@BAL: Wieters nabs Johnson stealing to end the game

BALTIMORE -- The Orioles used three pitchers to close out the ninth inning on Wednesday night, with manager Buck Showalter opting to stay away from struggling closer Jim Johnson, but it was the arm of catcher Matt Wieters that stole the show.

With Baltimore clinging to a two-run lead and Tampa Bay threatening with runners on the corners, Wieters fired the ball to shortstop J.J. Hardy, who made an excellent pick to nab Kelly Johnson trying to steal second. The game-ending play put an emphatic ending on a crucial win for the Orioles, who used a pair of homers from Adam Jones and Chris Davis -- who extended his Major League-leading total to 46 -- and a solid outing from starter Wei-Yin Chen to show their resolve in a 4-2, sweep-avoiding win over the Rays.

"It was huge," Davis said of having Wieters erase a good jump by Johnson, who represented the potential tying run. "It fired me up. I thought my heart was about to explode in my chest there for a minute. We had another nail-biter. But that's what you expect down the stretch -- close games, [a] playoff-type atmosphere."

Losers of six of eight going in, the O's used a stellar seven innings by Chen to capture their second win in nine games over the Rays.

"Wietey's got a hose, and J.J.'s got some of the best hands in the game," reliever Tommy Hunter, who recorded the save, said of the final play. "It was pretty awesome. I was pretty pumped, actually. 'Atta boy, Wietey.' I think I said that and a few other choice words afterward. I hope they didn't get on TV."

"Did Wieters get the save?" asked Showalter in astonishment, pointing out that the throw to the bag was timed at 1.75 seconds. "That's sick. You can't do that. He's had a few of those. How about the tag by Hardy? I've got to tell you, he's the best tagger I've ever seen."

And although the game was punctuated by Wieters' and Hardy's defensive prowess, and highlighted by the power of Jones and Davis, it was the steady Chen who kept things in check.

"He knows what he's doing," Rays manager Joe Maddon said of Chen, who exited to a standing ovation after getting a double play to end the seventh. "He's a fastball pitcher, he's proud of his fastball. And I love that part about him. And he knows just how to elevate it enough at the right time."

Chen, who has allowed 17 of 34 runs this season in the sixth inning or later, navigated through the later frames without any issue and was finally a beneficiary of some run support. The Orioles gave the lefty more than three runs for just the second time in his last seven starts, and Chen -- who allowed one hit following Sean Rodriguez's leadoff blast in the fourth inning -- rewarded that effort. He scattered six hits and three walks, allowing two runs -- solo homers to Rodriguez and Jason Bourgeois -- in the 98-pitch effort.

"Emotionally and mentally, I had control tonight," Chen said through his interpreter, Tim Lin. "I didn't want them to hit a lot of foul balls off me, so I attacked the strike zone."

The Orioles went deep twice off Rays starter Jeremy Hellickson, with Davis' moonshot -- which landed on Eutaw Street -- starting the fifth. The blast, which came on Hellickson's 78-mph changeup, was the latest in Davis' assault on the record books, tying him with Jim Gentile for the third most in club history. Davis trails only Frank Robinson (49) and Brady Anderson (50) for the single-season record, and his 41 homers against the AL East since the start of last season are the most for any player against any division over that span.

"It means we put up one run on the board and we were able to get the win," Davis, who has 116 RBIs, said of what it means to tie Gentile. "That's the biggest thing. Obviously, team goals come before individual goals. I'm happy to be swinging the bat well. I'm even happier to get the win."

The O's eked out the victory after Darren O'Day -- who pitched a 1-2-3 eighth -- exited in favor of lefty Brian Matusz after allowing a leadoff single. Matusz issued an 11-pitch walk to James Loney, prompting Showalter to bring on Hunter, who recorded a pair of outs before Wieters' game-ending putout.

"I've seen him do that before," Wieters said of Hardy's pick. "He spoils you a little bit as a catcher because you know that if you just get in the vicinity, he's going to have a pretty good chance of making a play for you."

As for Johnson, who has blown three consecutive save opportunities, getting another chance in the ninth?

"We've got 30-something games [left]," said Showalter, who said Johnson had been unavailable on Wednesday after his workload the past few days. "We're going to put our best foot forward every night. Jimmy's our best option, one of them. I'm glad we've got more than one good option. We've got a lot of good options, and we'll continue to make use of them."

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