The fifth-place Devil Rays entered the game trailing the fourth-place Orioles by 3 1/2 games in the standings before the lid on top of Tropicana Field's domed ceiling seemed to flip in a 13-12 win that took four hours and nine minutes, and saw 39 hits and 398 pitches.
"Gee, didn't seem like a pitch over 390 to me," said Rays manager Joe Maddon, who was able to laugh given the outcome of the laugher that turned bad.
Flash back to the grand times of the fifth inning, when a crowd of 17,347 stood and cheered the home team once the O's finally recorded the final out of the inning, which lasted 56 pitches, 34 minutes and 50 seconds. By then, 14 Rays had gone to the plate accounting for 10 runs on 10 hits, including six extra-base hits, to give the Rays what appeared to be a comfortable 10-3 cushion. If that wasn't enough run support, Rays hitters tacked on three more in the sixth to push the margin to 13-3.
When you're up "13-3, you feel like it's OK," Maddon said.
What followed in the ensuing innings made mopup men throughout the Major Leagues break out in a cold sweat.
After Shawn Camp pitched two scoreless innings in relief of starter Tim Corcoran, the parade of Jon Switzer, Ruddy Lugo and Chad Harville suddenly couldn't get anybody out. Hit after hit followed in the seventh inning, which lasted 57 pitches, 35 minutes and one second. And when the O's mercifully quit hitting in the seventh, they had scored nine runs to cut the Rays' lead to 13-12.
Sensing the obvious, Maddon decided to bring in closer Brian Meadows to get the final out of the seventh.
"I knew our 'pen was short," Meadows said. "And we had a couple of guys have rough outings. ... I had to go out there and just try to make them hit the ball. ... Luckily for me they hit it at people."
Meadows remained in the game for the duration.
The O's threatened in the eighth, when they loaded the bases with no outs. But Brian Roberts popped out to center, and Rocco Baldelli's throw home kept Corey Patterson at third. Ramon Hernandez then hit into an inning-ending 4-6-3 double-play.
"That was the first time I've ever done that," said Meadows about escaping the bases-loaded jam. "I mean, a situation like that, you look to give up one run and get out of there."
Meadows heroically recorded the final three outs in the ninth, but it didn't come easy. After getting Melvin Mora on a flyout, Miguel Tejada rerouted one back through the box.
"I saw the ball coming at me and I couldn't do anything," Meadows said. "By the time I hit the ground, that ball would have hit me four times. Those things will scare you."
In the end, Meadows earned his sixth save the hard way by recording the final seven outs of the game.
The way the game ended overshadowed a stellar offensive effort by Rays hitters, particularly Julio Lugo, who ranked first among a cast of heroes by hitting two two-run homers in the fifth inning to account for four runs.
Rumored to be heading elsewhere before the July 31 trading deadline, Lugo has been stating his case to remain the Rays' shortstop for years to come.
Since the All-Star break, Lugo is 14-for-37 (.378) with three home runs and six RBIs, a stretch that has raised his season's average to .310. Interested suitors will likely have to ante up more than originally thought to procure Lugo's talents for a pennant run. For the time being, he will continue to help the Rays overtake the O's to escape the American League East cellar.
Only 46 previous times in baseball history had a player hit two home runs in one inning, and Lugo became the 44th player to accomplish the feat. The last player to hit two home runs in an inning was Montreal's Juan Rivera against the White Sox on June 19, 2004. In addition, Lugo is only the second shortstop in Major League history to accomplish the feat; Boston's Nomar Garciaparra did it against the Rays on July 23, 2002.
"It is nice," Lugo said. "A special thing like that -- enjoy it. ... It was a good night. [It] almost turned into an ugly night."
Russell Branyan also stood out for the Rays' offense.
The power-hitting lefty has had an odd statistical year in that he entered Saturday night's game with more home runs, 10, than singles, nine. And he did nothing to alter that mark against the O's by hitting a three-run homer and a double in the fifth. He added an RBI double in the sixth for good measure.
Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo was asked if he'd ever witnessed a game like Saturday night's.
"I don't think so, and I don't care to again," he said.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.