Danny Coulombe’s face lit up at the very mention of what comes next for the Orioles.

He stood inside Baltimore’s home clubhouse, a treatment system applying pressure to his arm as maintenance after his season-high 2 1/3 innings of relief. After the final out of Wednesday’s series-ending victory against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Coulombe wasn’t alone in fast-forwarding his mind to the next challenge rapidly approaching.

In a few hours, the Orioles will board a flight headed south. They’ll arrive in St. Petersburg, Florida, to face a long-felt thorn in their side. They’ll enter it, though, on level footing: With Baltimore’s 8-5 win and Tampa Bay’s 5-1 loss to the Texas Rangers on Wednesday, the Orioles and Rays will meet at Tropicana Field tied for the lead in the American League East.

“It’s gonna be a fun series,” Coulombe said. “This is what you want. This is what baseball wants. Just two really good teams. It’s going to be some fun games.”

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Tampa Bay held a 6 1/2-game lead on the division July 1 before its midsummer swoon coupled with Baltimore’s ever-present consistency. The Orioles lost the first two games of this series against the Dodgers, but they finished with a win to avoid a series sweep yet again.

They’re the eighth team in major league history to avoid a sweep in 70 or more multigame series, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. They’re also the only team this year to have not been swept.

Baltimore hasn’t been swept since May 2022 — or, in other terms, since catcher Adley Rutschman’s promotion to the majors. But it’s not all down to Rutschman, far from it. The Orioles have extended their streak because of the collective, and Wednesday that collective received major contributions from infielders Ramón Urías and Gunnar Henderson.

“We’re not going to give any games away, and I feel like that’s what you have to do to make the postseason run,” Henderson said, noting how, when a team looks back at the end of the season, these wins — avoiding a sweep — make all the difference.

“We lost two out of three, but we went 4-2 on the homestand,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “Today was a big game for us, and now we have a big series against our division.”

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When the Orioles needed an insurance run against a Dodgers team that had come from behind to win Monday’s opener and cruised to a lopsided Tuesday victory, there was Henderson in the fifth inning against Dodgers left-hander Julio Urías.

The first 18 homers of Henderson’s career came against right-handers. In his 102nd plate appearance against a lefty, Henderson caught all of Urías’ offering and skipped into home plate, his first left-on-left long ball achieved.

“Not to be cocky, but I hope it won’t be the last one,” Henderson said. “Been feeling really comfortable against them, and I knew it was just a matter of time, being able to see them consistently.”

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The start to Henderson’s season was emblematic of a rookie experiencing what it’s like for top-level pitchers to adjust their approach. He burst onto the scene late last season and began 2023 as a Rookie of the Year contender. Although Henderson still reached base at a high clip through the first two months, his average hovered around .200.

Since June, though, Henderson’s production has reached new highs. He holds a .299 average in his last 35 games, with a .943 OPS. In that time, Henderson has launched 10 home runs.

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“You see him just get more comfortable against left-handed pitching,” Hyde said. “Just a young player getting more at-bats in the big leagues, and it’s a tough left-hander he took deep, too. He’s got huge power, got a ton of ability, now he just needs at-bats.”

Henderson scored three runs and Ramón Urías drove in three runs with two doubles. The Orioles weathered a shaky performance from right-hander Dean Kremer, who faced his former organization for the first time since he was traded to Baltimore as part of the package for Manny Machado in 2018.

He settled down after a 37-pitch first inning but then gave up a long ball to James Outman after retiring nine straight batters. Outman became the first left-handed hitter to go yard over the deeper and higher left-field fence.

Then Kremer conceded a two-run homer to Max Muncy in the fifth that effectively ended his outing. At the time, it cut Baltimore’s edge to two runs and hinted at Monday’s series opener, when a narrow lead wasn’t enough to hold off a potent Los Angeles offense. But Coulombe struck out three batters in his scoreless 2 1/3 innings, a performance Hyde called “the best-case scenario.”

“For me, that was his performance of the year,” Hyde said. “Won us the game, honestly.”

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With this game won, the Orioles can turn their attention to Tampa Bay. When they arrive at Tropicana Field, they will do so holding a tie for first place in the American League East after the All-Star break for the first time since 2016.

The stakes there are high. But this Orioles team — which finds ways to laugh even in the midsummer heat — is taking this stage in stride.

“We’re out here still having fun, ups and downs,” Kremer said. “But this is a very competitive ballclub all the way around.”


Andy Kostka is an Orioles beat writer for The Baltimore Banner. He previously covered the Orioles for The Baltimore Sun. Kostka graduated from the University of Maryland and grew up in Rockville.

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