Rays lose combined perfect game bid in 9th

BALTIMORE -- The opener strategy is working out pretty well.

The Tampa Bay Rays, who popularized the pitching approach that has been spreading across baseball, nearly threw a combined perfect game using the strategy during a 4-1 win over the Baltimore Orioles on Sunday afternoon.

Of the 23 perfect games in major league history, all have been thrown by a single pitcher.

Right-hander Ryne Stanek started the game and went two innings, striking out two and throwing 31 pitches. He then gave way to lefty Ryan Yarbrough, who worked the next six innings without allowing a baserunner. Yarbrough stayed on to start the ninth, but allowed a ground single to right field to leadoff hitter Hanser Alberto, through the overshifted infield.

Alberto's single had just a 16% probability of being a hit, according to Statcast. It was just his second hit of the season against the shift that went to the right side of the field, according to Statcast. His last one was a similar dribbler on April 27 in Minnesota against the Twins.

After Alberto's single, the Camden Yards crowd of 14,082 rose to its feet and gave a standing ovation in honor of the last-place Birds getting their first hit of the day.

Yarbrough said he wasn't blaming the shift for Alberto's hit.

"It's helped me so much throughout the year. That's all part of it. We've had it before, and I don't blame it at all. It's just all part of it. I feel like there are so many holes in baseball. It was meant to be like that," he said. "Felt pretty good about the pitch and he just kind of snuck it through the right side there."

Yarbrough was relieved after allowing another single to Stevie Wilkerson and then striking out Chance Sisco. Righty Oliver Drake came on and allowed a run-scoring single, then gave way to Emilio Pagan, who fanned Trey Mancini to end the game.

"It would've been cool. It hurts a little bit more knowing it's never been done before," Rays catcher Mike Zunino said. "It's one of those things, if he waits a little longer, it goes right to [first baseman] Ji-Man [Choi] over there. It's one of those things where it's part of the game. That's why there aren't too many [perfect games] out there."

Stanek and Yarbrough, both 27 years old, were drafted as starters. Stanek was converted to relief in the minors in 2016, and has served as the poster child for Tampa Bay's opener strategy. Over the past two seasons, he has worked a total of 118 innings, despite starting 55 games. Yarbrough, who was recalled from Triple-A Durham before the game, debuted last year and has averaged almost four innings in his 43 relief outings. He has also made 10 starts.

The Rays were the last team to be victimized by a perfect game, when Mariners right-hander Felix Hernandez accomplished the feat against them on Aug. 15, 2012. Hernandez was one of three pitchers to toss a perfect game that season, along with the Giants' Matt Cain and White Sox's Philip Humber.

The Orioles franchise has never been the victim of a perfect game but has been no-hit 15 times. The Rays have had three perfect games thrown against them, tied with the Dodgers for most all time.

Tampa Bay's combined near-perfecto comes just two days after the Angels threw a combined no-hitter against the Mariners -- the 13th combined no-no in MLB history -- on the night they honored late teammate Tyler Skaggs, who would have turned 28 years old the following day.

There have been multiple combined no-hitters during the same season just once. In 1991, the Orioles and Braves both pulled off the feat.

ESPN Stats & Information contributed to this report.