Make ’em pay - Orioles 2, Blue Jays 1
Written by Mike Laws
O’s take advantage of critical error en route to walk-off win
Intra-ornithological warfare! Bird-on-bird crime! For the first two-thirds of Monday’s opener against the Blue Jays, we had a pacey tooth-and-nail (gizzard-and-talon?) pitching duel on our hands, a game whose first six innings breezed by in well under two hours. And then … well, and then we still had ourselves a pitching duel, albeit a much more deliberate one involving bullpens and matchups and the like, which of course ratcheted the tension up to nearly unbearable levels. And is it just me, or is a scratch-it-out-type victory infinitely more satisfying than, say, capping a crooked-number slugfest with a walk-off grand slam?
… Maybe it’s just me.
To the bullet points!
- OK, let me harsh everyone’s mellow real quick. Because the following is an admittedly Debbie Downer-ish thing to say, in the wake of an inspired, and inspiring, victory — but the fact that O’s starter Chris Tillman wouldn’t qualify for a well-deserved W was, to me, actually really sad. Turning in by far his best effort of the 2013 season, Tillman had, by the time the seventh inning rolled around, allowed only one base hit while striking out one (and also, yes, walking three). At that point he clocked in at a cool seventy-five pitches. He’d faced the minimum three Toronto batsmen in four of his six trips to the mound, never facing more than four. On two separate occasions he’d averted any potential trouble with timely groundball double plays off the bat of shaggy Colby Rasmus. And speaking of ground balls: Over half of all the outs Tillman had recorded came by way of the ol’ worm-burner. In the seventh he’d add to his K total, ringing up both Jose Bautista and Adam Lind — both dangerous hitters, it goes without saying — both looking. (The pitch to freeze Bautista was especially filthy: a big 12-6 hook in surprised reaction to which it appeared Bautista was trying to do some kind of limbo. Go back to the “Why Not” video and look at the Mark McGwire/Gregg Olson footage and you’ll have a pretty good reference point.) So the run the Blue Jays were able to push across, by way of a looped single and a pair of seeing-eye two-out grounders through the Oriole defense — the last of those from Rasmus — took on the quality of bleeding Tillman to death. It’s almost as if he were being punished for becoming just the second Oriole starter this season to hit the six and two-thirds mark …
- But enough with all this … querulousness. Fact is, the Orioles were themselves facing an equally tough J.A. Happ, and were perhaps lucky to have finally gotten to him, in their half of the sixth, for what would prove a short-lived one-run lead. True, Manny Machado and Adam Jones started things off with back-to-back singles to left, but it was Happ’s wild pitch (/passed ball, but official scoring is official scoring) that permitted Machado and Jones to advance a base — which would turn out to be crucial, after Matt Wieters grounded sharply to a pulled-in Munenori Kawasaki at short, hitting the ball hard but failing to do much of anything else. But c’mon — Chris Davis in an RBI situation where all he has to do is lift the ball? With that sweet upper-cutting stroke? Forget about it. Davis turned on a fastball designed to jam him, sending the pitch sufficiently deep into right to plate Machado …
- And so, heading deeper into the night, knotted at 1, it’d be a matter of which bullpen arm would falter first. It wasn’t going to be Darren O’Day, who spelled Tillman in the seventh (recording a huge strikeout of Emilio Bonifacio to end the threat) then continued on with a scoreless eighth (working around the dread leadoff walk, to Kawasaki). But neither was it to be Toronto’s Steve Delabar, called upon to bail Happ out in the seventh; Delabar likewise stayed on for a largely uneventful eighth. Tit for tat, so far …
- … And the chess match seemed likely to continue on into probable extra innings, with Jim Johnson delivering a variety-pack of outs (grounder, fly ball, K) to set the side down quietly in the Blue Jay ninth. When it came time for Toronto reliever Aaron (“The Jeweler”) Loup’s turn, the southpaw got himself into some quick trouble by plunking Davis with his very first offering, but appeared to have worked around that and a subsequent sacrifice bunt by J.J. Hardy; Loup got DH Steve Pearce to pop up meekly to second, then walked Nolan Reimold intentionally to get to Alexi Casilla — whose renowned speed on the basepaths must’ve spooked Kawasaki into a rushed throw to first, after Casilla chopped a ball his way, because the Japanese shortstop’s relay short-hopped first-bagger Edwin Encarnacion, who couldn’t come up with the pick. The error brought leadoff man Nick Markakis to the dish. Markakis took two Loup pitches for strikes, including a dropped-in slider for strike two, then fouled off a third offering. Still down 0-2, Nick did what Nick does, spanking a tough outer-half fastball the other way, down the left-field line, where it might as well still be rolling, for all any of the Oriole faithful care. Davis scooted on in with the game-winning run, and this one was in the books. 2-1, O’s, is your final.
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