Never Too Late- Chen Nearly Untouchable- O's 3, A's 0
Written by Mike Laws
Never too late
Chen nearly untouchable in spinning team’s first shutout
Orioles 3, Oakland 0
The way the Orioles appear to understand the cliché, there’s a first time for everything. Might as well get it all done at once. And so the Birds, in Oakland for the second of four with the upstart A’s, crossed several items off the 2013 to-do list: seven-inning start, big game from DH, shutout. If it wasn’t a performance aimed squarely at the naysayers, doubters and haters, maybe it’ll at least shut ’em up for a while.
And so, with a chip on our collective shoulder, on to the bullet points. Take it away.
- There was a second there where I thought Gary Thorne had jinxed Wei-Yin Chen. Revisit the situation with me, if you will: two down in the Oakland seventh, nobody on. Birds up just a run, 1-0, having finally broken through in their half of the frame. And what’s Thorne go and do? He actually says, out loud, something to the effect of “Let’s see if Chen can become the first Oriole starter to go beyond that six and two-thirds mark.” Gah! Keep that to yourself, Holmes! And Chen of course walks the next batter, Derek Norris, and falls behind 2-and-0 and then 3-and-1 to Nate Freiman — who, by the way, has Oakland’s only legit hit all night, a double off the wall in right-center back in the fifth. (The only other hit charged to the Oriole southpaw, a Coco Crisp grounder that ate up Manny Machado in the third, probably should’ve been an error.) But just when I’m ready to start jabbing pins into my Thorne voodoo doll at some choice anatomical loci, Chen gets out of it, inducing another of what were too many lazy fly balls to count, in this one. Rejoice, Oriole Nation! A starter finally went seven deep …
- … And, though he’d thrown 96 pitches by this point — which meant you could practically hear the whole of Baltimore, 3,000 miles away, pleading, “Buck, seriously, do NOT bring Chen back for the eighth, you know how he gets after 90 pitches or so” — Chen did, in fact, return for an eighth inning of work. He threw precisely ten pitches that frame, setting the side down in order via a pair of (what else?) fly-ball outs sandwiching a timid bouncer back to the mound. His glorious final line on the night: no runs on two hits, two walks, five strikeouts. And with that, by far the best performance we’ve seen out of an Oriole starter all year.
- Ah, but the A’s had gotten an eerily similar performance out of their starting lefty, Tommy Milone, who, entering the seventh, had likewise struck out five, while walking one Oriole batsman and scattering four hits. He’d also done well to work out of what trouble he did occasionally encounter: In the second, with one away, following an infield single legged out by Nolan Reimold, Milone watched as his defense, far from turning a should’ve-been double play off the bat of Steve Pearce, botched matters something awful, failing to record even the one out after 3B Josh Donaldson’s throw pulled the second baseman off the bag. Milone responded by grounding Alexi Casilla into, yes, a double play. And in the Oriole fifth Milone had had to use every millimeter of O.co. Coliseum, stranding Pearce at second after the O’s DH missed a homer to straightaway center by about eight inches. Drat. But anyway, back to the seventh — when Milone’s defense let him down once more (a recurrent theme in this one, no doubt). That inning’s leadoff hitter, J.J. Hardy, had tomahawked an 0-2 pitch into right-center, and had no designs on stretching the hit into a double — that is, until Josh Reddick bobbled the ball/slipped on the outfield grass, permitting Hardy to advance. And wouldn’t you know it, it was Pearce, apparently still fuming over missing a home run due to this particular ballpark’s insane dimensions, who delivered, shooting a grounder up the middle and just out of reach of shortstop Adam Rosales, plating Hardy. Milone, his pitch count having reached a hundred, retired one more Oriole hitter before getting the hook from manager Bob Melvin …
- … a fortuitous development, it’d turn out, with respect to the Oriole quest for insurance digits. Facing righty Ryan Cook in their half of the ninth, the Birds put runners on first and second with one away courtesy of an infield single from Hardy and a walk to Reimold. Pearce then strode to the dish and, after falling behind 0-2, proceeded to turn in an absolutely epic twelve-pitch at-bat, fouling off seven Cook deliveries (five in a row, to boot) and working the count full before, finally, likewise walking. That set the stage for pinch hitter Nate McLouth, he of the Zen-like plate discipline and eye-popping on-base percentage, who nevertheless grounded a 2-0 offering toward Jed Lowrie at second. But Lowrie, no doubt concerned about McLouth’s ability (on display the evening prior) to hustle down the line and avoid the double play, appeared to already be thinking about making the relay before he ever had the ball in his mitt; and did none of the above. The A’s third error of the ballgame plated Hardy and kept the bases full of Birds with one away for Nick Markakis, who lifted a long fly ball to left, good for a sacrifice giving the O’s their third run of the ballgame.
- And so about the only other base to cover (excuse the pun) was to see if Jim Johnson could preserve the shutout. The Baltimore closer got Chris Young to fly out to right. He fanned J.J. — I mean, Josh — Reddick on a filthy 1-2 curve. And, after a frankly-kind-of-lucky sliced double down the left-field line on a 1-2 pitch to Lowrie allowed just the second Athletic all night to reach second base, Johnson rebounded by inducing Donaldson into a game-ending, shutout-affirming grounder to short. 3-0, O’s, is your lovely, lovely final.
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