SARASOTA, Fla. -- In one of the stranger finishes to a Spring Training game, the Rays defeated the Orioles, 4-3, on Thursday in front of a record sellout crowd of 8,796 fans at Ed Smith Stadium.
With the game tied in the top of the ninth inning, Rays top prospect Wil Myers scored the game-winning run on an unusual infraction that left many in attendance puzzled. Orioles top prospect Dylan Bundy bounced a pitch that deflected off catcher Luis Exposito and came to rest just a couple feet in front of him with Myers on third. Exposito casually reached out and raked the ball in with his catcher's mask, a violation that automatically granted Myers home plate -- and ultimately the game-winning run.
Earlier in the game, Rays starter Jeff Niemann continued to state his case for the final spot in the Rays' rotation, outdueling Baltimore's 2012 first-round Draft pick Kevin Gausman.
Niemann, who is battling Roberto Hernandez for the Rays' No. 5 starter job, worked 4 1/3 innings before exiting the game with a 3-0 lead and a man on first. That lead was quickly erased, as reliever Juan Sandoval came on and walked center fielder Nate McLouth before catcher Matt Wieters crushed a three-run homer to straightaway center field to tie the game.
Wieters' blast was his second of the spring and canceled out Tampa Bay's three-run third inning that knocked Gausman from the game.
Making his first start of the spring, Gausman struggled with control issues, walking three in 2 2/3 innings. He walked three in his first four Spring Training appearances combined. Just when it looked as if he was starting to settle into a groove in the third, the Rays staged a two-out rally.
Gausman recorded a strike out and a popout to start the inning, but the right-hander walked Kelly Johnson before Evan Longoria followed with an RBI double that gave the Rays a 1-0 lead and ended Gausman's day.
"I was pretty happy with my secondary stuff, but my command with my fastball wasn't what it's been this spring, so I was a little upset about that," Gausman said. "But overall I kind of kept the team in the game and that's what you're trying to do as a starter."
The Rays wasted no time adding to the lead, as former Oriole Luke Scott -- who hit 84 homers in four seasons with Baltimore from 2008-11 -- promptly welcomed reliever Mike Belfiore to the game with a two-run blast to right, stretching the lead to 3-0.
Following Wieters' game-tying blast, the game remained tied until the top of the ninth when the unusual finish unfolded.
Up next: The battle for the final spot in the rotation continues on Friday, as the Orioles send Zach Britton to the mound when they play host to the Red Sox at 1:05 p.m. ET at Ed Smith Stadium. In three Grapefruit League appearances, Britton has allowed two earned runs over five innings while striking out five and walking none. Fellow left-handers T.J. McFarland and Mark Hendrickson, along with right-hander Luis Ayala, are also expected to pitch. The game can be followed live on Gameday.