Power Outage - Stumped by Kuroda, Birds fall 3-0
Written by Mike Laws
Poor Wei-Yin Chen. For the second straight start the guy pitches admirably in inhospitable environs — Fenway, earlier in the week; Yankee Stadium for the ESPN Sunday-night game, tonight — and looks masterful for his first few innings, before making a mistake or maybe two and surrendering a back-breaking three-run inning powered by an opportunistic homer. And, naturally, for the second straight start Chen’s effort to keep his side in the ballgame would go for naught due to a befuddled Baltimore offense (which, having run into a hot Clay Buchholz in Boston, now had to contend with a brilliant Hiroki Kuroda). Talk about uninspiring run support …
So, sadly, on to the bullet points:
- You’ll notice that I called Kuroda’s performance brilliant, in the introduction above. Hard as that is to admit, for an Oriole fan, it’s probably true; but it’s also an appraisal that demands some slight qualification, because Oriole batsmen didn’t make the Japanese right-hander work especially hard. Kuroda delivered ten pitches in the first inning — and that’s counting a Nick Markakis base hit. All three outs were groundouts. In the second, Kuroda threw thirteen pitches, and that’s with a J.J. Hardy base-knock. All three outs were groundouts. About the only thing to change all evening, with respect to this pattern, was that in subsequent innings Kuroda wouldn’t have to face four Orioles; also, that he started mixing in a handful of strikeouts, to go along with all those damn worm-burners. To follow up what was by far his most taxing inning of work — the fifth, in which he threw (gasp!) twenty pitches — Kuroda delivered precisely seven baseballs to home plate, in the sixth. Entering the eighth, Kuroda’s pitch count stood at a lean eighty-eight. He finished his complete game having missed with a first-pitch ball to just ten hitters all night, and without allowing an Oriole to reach second base.
- And good as Chen was, for much of this one, he just wasn’t up to all that. You could argue that, through four, Chen was running even with his opposite number — he’d allowed only a pair of singles (one of them an infield hit) and a walk, up to that point. (Interestingly, he was also feasting off the pop-up/lazy fly ball to roughly the same extent Kuroda was enjoying his many ground-ball outs. To watch one pitcher was kind of to watch the other in a dark mirror. Or whatever. Anyway.) Anyway, Chen’s luck would run out in the fifth, when he came undone by way of a couple singles to lead things off, followed by a pair of — are you watching, Orioles? — productive fly-ball outs … and then, right when it looked like he’d successfully headed off the Big Inning, the two-run shot off the bat of Brett Gardner. Which was actually way more than Kuroda would need, in this one …
OK, SO, SOME POSITIVE STUFF HAPPENED, I GUESS: For one thing, John Kruk was pretty funny, on the national broadcast. For another, there was T.J. McFarland, who continued to impress, gamely battling his way through a somewhat trying seventh and returning for an easy one-two-three eight-pitch eighth. And finally, though his stat line for the night won’t reflect as much — in fact, it’ll look pretty gnarly — the 0-for-3 Nate McLouth hit the ball on the nose each trip. Each ball just happened to be directed right at someone with a glove wearing pinstripes. As if to underline McLouth’s nasty luck, in his final plate appearance, in the eighth, with a man aboard, he grounded a ball hard back through the box — and right into whatever shift the Yankee defense had concocted for him. On account of the ball having been hit so sharply, McLouth wasn’t even close to beating the relay. Sigh.
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