Written by Mike Laws
In miraculous comeback, O’s erase 6-0 deficit, score nine unanswered
Orioles 9, Minnesota 6
If ever there’s to be a sequel to the 2012 “BUCKle Up Birds”1 DVD, Friday night’s opener against the Twins at Target Field would be a likely candidate to figure prominently therein. Those retrospectives always reserve a goodly amount of airtime, after all, for miracle comebacks2 — and it’d be nigh on impossible to say that what we witnessed tonight didn’t qualify3.
But let’s get right into it. On to the bullet points!4
So, then: I hope you won’t hold it against me if the word double comes up about a billion times in this recap. Kinda hard to avoid, given how many of the suckers (doubles, I mean) we saw: eleven shared between the teams by the middle of the seventh inning. At that point the Twins and O’s had combined for twenty-two total hits, meaning fully half were doubles; even odder — though maybe we can chalk this up to Target’s spacious dimensions — is that nary an other type of extra-base hit was recorded all night, by either team. No triples, no homers. Just lots and lots of doubles.
And singles. And walks. And pitches that eluded catchers. And (if you were the Twins) throwing errors. And (if you were the Orioles) stolen bases. And sacrifice bunts and swinging bunts that acted like sacrifices and groundouts hit behind runners. The point is that the basepaths were fairly strewn with runners, in this contest — and that a good number of those runners wound up in scoring position: seventeen for the home team, twenty-four for the Orioles.
The difference, in the early innings5, is that the Twins were actually driving theirs in. The club pounced on Baltimore starter Jason Hammel with an opportunistic first: a run plated on the strength of an infield single from leadoff man Jamey Carroll, a Joe Mauer double lined over the head of Chris Dickerson (which Dickerson, who misjudged the sailing drive badly, probably should’ve caught6) and an RBI groundout from Bird-killer Josh Willingham. 1-0, after one …
That Hammel nearly emerged unscathed from his second inning of work — but didn’t, and wound up conceding a pair more runs — looked, for a long while, like it would comprise most of the evening’s talking points. After a leadoff walk and two subsequent singles loaded the bags with nobody down, the Oriole starter bore down and rang up both Eduardo Escobar and Carroll (the former on ladder-climbing fastballs, swinging; the latter looking at a dropped-in slider) and was ahead 1-2 on Mauer before the pride of Minnesota slapped a two-run single back through the box. A third-inning Justin Morneau double/Ryan Doumit7 sac-fly combination added a fourth run, and the Twins chased Hammel in the fifth, after Trevor Plouffe doubled in the game’s fifth run following a walk and hit-by-pitch, to start the frame. And while T.J. McFarland made the best of the bad situation he inherited, permitting another of those pesky RBI groundouts but otherwise minimizing the damage a second-and-third/nobody-out circumstance stood to do, it was now a laugher, 6-0.
Meanwhile, the Orioles seemed intent on wasting opportunities left and right. In only one of their first five turns at offense had Twins starter Mike Pelfrey set the Birds down in order. As for the others: In the first they’d stranded Manny Machado. In the second Chris Davis doubled to lead things off — and remained at second the rest of the inning. In the third Alexi Casilla singled and stole second, and eventually Nick Markakis walked and Adam Jones lucked into a broken-bat/swinging-bunt single, loading the bases — and Davis flied out to end the threat. In the fifth Casilla again singled to lead things off, but Nate McLouth grounded into a double play. Things were not looking promising.
But then, in the sixth, the doubles started coming. And ironically, it was Davis’s turn to cash in on a ball the right fielder (in this case Oswaldo Arcia) probably should’ve had; Arcia appeared to pull up out of his dead run to right-center, possibly for fear of the wall8, and Davis’s moon-shot plopped down somewhere near the base of the wall, scoring Markakis (who’d doubled on a grounder whacked inside the bag at third to lead things off). Red-hot J.J. Hardy9 followed suit with a two-out two-bagger of his own — a 2-1 Pelfrey offering lashed to the gap in left — which is also, incidentally, where Dickerson sliced his follow-up double10. 6-3, now. In the words of Doc Emrick, “Er! What have we here?”
Quite a lot, actually. Having chased Pelfrey from the ballgame, the Orioles were no kinder to his successor (and Baltimore native son) Josh Roenicke, who would last exactly one out in the seventh. To tick it all off one by one, Roenicke surrendered: a McLouth double into the gap in right-center; a Machado bunt single to third (fielded admirably by Plouffe on a barehanded pickup, then ignominiously thrown away, permitting McLouth to score and Machado to advance to second); a Markakis single (probably could’ve been a double) into left-center, plating Machado; and, after a groundout from Jones, Davis’s third double of the game, this one higher off the wall but in essentially the same spot in right-center as before. Which scored Markakis. Which meant we were — I don’t believe it — all square at 6.
And then, for a while, not much happened11. Casey Fien came on and got Matt Wieters to fly out and Hardy to ground out, to end the Oriole seventh. Then Fien worked a scoreless eighth and was spelled by Jared Burton for a quiet ninth. For the visitors, McFarland and Tommy Hunter combined to keep the Twins off the board for the sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth innings (with Hunter falling 3-0 to two batters, and 3-1 to another, but never walking anyone, and not allowing a hit, either) …
So this one was destined for extras. And you know how the Birds feel about extras. Dickerson — not done atoning, apparently — led things off, greeting Twinkies reliever Anthony Swarzak with a single to right. Casilla followed by bunting Dickerson over. McLouth blooped a single to center, moving Dickerson to third. So that’s one out, the go-ahead run ninety feet away for Machado — who promptly punched a single through the right-side hole. A perfect piece of hitting, and the Orioles had their first lead of the game. And they weren’t done yet. Markakis delivered a loft deep enough into left to bring in McLouth (who’d scampered to third on Machado’s clutch single). 8-6, O’s. And then, just for good measure, Jones drove a ball into the gap in left-center, plating Machado (who’d tagged and advanced, on the Markakis sac-fly, when he saw the throw was coming in to the plate). 9-612.
ELABORATIONS AND ASIDES
1. A catchphrase/movement/meme that became one of those titles that, like the B-Sharps of “Simpsons” lore, seemed less and less clever the more you heard it.
2. I actually remember — from watching it an unhealthy, obscene amount, as a wee one — that the ’89 “Why Not?” year-in-highlights/Super Fresh promotional tie-in package homed in on a game at Fenway in which the O’s trailed the BoSox 6-0 before cutting the lead in half and going on to win (the VHS tape, which eventually broke from overuse, is in fact where I learned the phrase “cut the lead in half”). Would you believe me if I said that this came to mind tonight, while the Orioles were still down a touchdown?
3. Speaking relatively, of course. It’s not quite up there with the Resurrectiona, or anything.
a. The original “miracle comeback,” one could say.
4. Nope, not this time. This time we’re doing endnotes. But you already knew that, didn’t you? You naughty monkey, reading ahead!
5. Or “for roughly the first half of the game.” (Of course, splitting the game into two distinct halves, equal but opposite, jibes nicely with my whole twins/doubling conceit, don’tcha think?)
6. But don’t go cursing his name just yet, he’ll get his chance at redemption. Chances, actually …
7. Can someone tell me what’s going on with this guy’s eyes? Does he not have irises? Is his eye color actually black? The only other dudes I’ve seen who have this sort of thing going on are, like, one of the “X-Men” and the guitarist from Limp Bizkit. And those people were either fictitious or wore contacts. Frightening.
8. Which at Target Field is an actual wall, and no longer a giant garbage bag, like at the old Metrodome, to some degree vindicating Arcia’s fear.
9. I’m restricting “red-hot” to the baseball sense, but given what my girlfriend avers are Hardy’s team-leading good looks, I guess it works that way, too.
10. I’ve glossed over it here, but Dickerson’s at-bat, in hindsight, was probably the key to this comeback. Not only was this his chance to atone for that early defensive miscue, but Dickerson was down in a hole at 1-2, and got rewarded for staying back on Pelfrey’s offering and taking it the other way (it’d wind up in more or less the exact same spot as Hardy’s double). Plus, let’s not underestimate the psychological component at play: the difference between OK, Pelfrey just coughed a couple back up and that cut the lead in half thing we talked about earlier …
11. Not much offensively, is what I mean. I could spill a whole bucket of ink on McFarland’s work in the seventh, when he got off to a rocky start by yielding a bunt single to Plouffe, then uncorked a wild pitch, before rallying to ground Doumit out to third and fan Arcia on a nasty breaking ball, eventually giving way to Hunter, who likewise whiffed Aaron Hicks, effectively containing a man-on-second/nobody-out hazard …
12. OK, so Jones’s probably could’ve been yet another double — he likely didn’t try for fear of getting thrown out at second before Machado came across, which would’ve indeed been foolish — but what was this, all of a sudden? A game in which balls are finding alleyways better than hobos or stray cats, and now we’ve got singles and bunts and sac-flies and heady baserunning out the wazoo? Well, cool with me. After all, the small-ball inning got us the same result as the two double-fueled frames earlier — all three got us three runs — which of course provided just the margin Jim Johnson would need for his team-record thirty-fifth straight regular-season conversion (not to mention his fourteenth save of this particular season). And what a night to get it. Buckle up indeed. Why not?
Visit the Orioles Hangout Message Board