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  • Jun

    Unexpected Awesomeness

    Written by Mike Laws

    Unexpected awesomeness

    Staked by homers, Britton outpitches Verlander

    Orioles 5, Detroit 2


    Oh, Tigers, you must have been licking your chops. For a second straight Detroit night you sent a beastly right-hander up against a recent minor-league call-up: Max Scherzer against Jake Arrieta, last night, with predictable results, and tonight it was to be Justin Verlander cruising to one of his easier W’s against Zach Britton, he of the precisely one spot-start on the 2013 season, entering play …


    But I guess this is why we have that old saw about the games not being played on paper. Because, script, consider yourself flipped.


    On to the bullet points!


    • It’s kind of amazing what a little defense can do for a relatively green starter. Not that Britton needed a ton of help through his fine five and a third, mind you, but witness the job done by Nate McLouth in cutting down Miguel Cabrera on an attempted stretch-double, to end the Tiger first. Or Nick Markakis, climbing the wall in right and, though he couldn’t keep a squeeze on the baseball, at the very least keeping it within the spacious confines of Comerica Park, holding Jhonny Peralta to a two-out double in the second (Britton would proceed to strand him right there at second to retire the side). Even in what was doubtless the Oriole southpaw’s finest frame of work — the third, in which he threw two pitches to each hitter he faced, grounding all three of them out — Britton would benefit from the first of several stellar plays turned in by Manny Machado, who in this case dived to his left and had plenty of time to spring to his feet and twirl and fire to take a base hit away from Detroit catcher Brayan Pena … 


    • And we’ll break here to note that it was in the following half-inning, having witnessed the effort they were getting behind the ball, that the Oriole bats made their first true scuffs against Verlander’s typically tough offerings. Which is to say that Matt Wieters drew a five-pitch, one-out walk, and J.J. Hardy lofted his sixteenth home run of the year on a 1-1 delivery. Timely! Not to mention that this newfound opportunism vindicated some pretty tough deep-count earlier at-bats; the Birds, apparently, were set on making Verlander sweat, at the very least … 


    • But back to the glove-work. If you thought Machado’s first diving stab was nice, well, you had no idea, maaaaaan. The sure double he took away from Torii Hunter, leading off the Detroit half of the fourth, would go down as the altogether more eye-popping defensive gem, not least because it was to Manny’s backhand — the full extension thereof — and because Hunter can actually run. So the youngster, knowing he had to hurry, popped to his feet and unleashed an absolute bullet, with a tip of the cap to Chris Davis for making the pick on the short-hop over at first, nabbing Hunter by a half-step. But we’re not mentioning this just out of sheer love for the leather; no, looking back on it, you can say this play might’ve saved the day, for the Orioles. For following it was a Cabrera single (would’ve halved the Baltimore lead, had Hunter’s ball eluded Machado), a fielder’s choice hit into by Prince Fielder and a walk of Victor Martinez. Which was all still pretty scary, in the moment. But Britton dug deep and, after getting ahead in the count 1-2, then nearly losing him at 3-2, induced a lazy fly ball to center from Peralta, ending the threat. 


    • And wouldn’t you know it, the quick-strike Oriole offense came through again in the following half-inning. Machado swatted the first pitch he saw down the left-field line, hustling into second just ahead of the relay. That’s his thirty-third double of the year, already, folks. Talk about getting it done on both sides of the baseball. Anyway, Wieters then again walked, this time on four consecutive Verlander deliveries, setting the stage for Adam Jones. Who, like Machado, jumped on the first offering, shooting a rocket liner off an elevated outer-half Verlander fastball out over the wall in right. So that’s six pitches in the inning, from the Tiger ace: four for balls, the two strikes going for a double and a three-run home run, respectively. I’ll take it … 


    • From there it was a matter of making sure the 5-0 margin held up. Britton largely did his part, limiting the Detroit bats to a Matt Tuiasosopo homer (to basically the same swath of seating as Jones’s) in the fifth (in which the lefty also managed to strand a two-out free pass and infield single by grounding Cabrera out to second to end the frame). In the sixth he’d walk Fielder and record one out, his last, making way for Darren O’Day, who summarily rang up Peralta (looking) and Tuiasosopo (swinging). The seventh didn’t go quite as swimmingly for the side-armer: He surrendered a trifecta of singles before notching a single out, the last of them an RBI knock from Austin Jackson; and then, when O’Day did get the ground ball he was looking for, the umpiring crew did their level best to blow it for him, claiming that Pena had dodged Machado’s tag, and that the third baseman’s relay to second for the force on Jackson represented the only out the Orioles would get on the play. And here I was thinking Manny almost had a chance at three. Anyway, following a protracted and shall we say fairly animated discussion between O’s skipper Buck Showalter and second-base ump Laz Diaz (who’d appeared to have reversed an initial call ruling Pena out on the tag), O’Day popped the imposing Cabrera up meekly to third, and Brian Matusz, called upon to retire Fielder and end the extended inning, needed just one pitch to foul him out, too, this time over on the third-base side … 


    • But did the Orioles, like, think this wasn’t all interesting enough for us? Machado made a rare throwing error in the eighth, disrupting a typically brilliant performance from Tommy Hunter (who pitched around the miscue). And then Jim Johnson — man, he doesn’t always make it easy to watch, does he? The Oriole closer required just two pitches to fly Pena out, deep to left, then delivered five baseballs to Jackson, who stopped slapping singles long enough to take the walk. Then Hunter ripped an 0-1 single to left, bringing the potential tie run to the plate in the person of last year’s Triple Crown winner. Crud. But no. Not crud. Chasing Johnson’s first delivery of the at-bat, as he is wont to do, Cabrera rolled over on one of the big man’s heavy sinking fastballs, rolling it out to Hardy for a tailor-made 6-4-3 twin killing. And that, sportsfans, is how this one would end. 5-2, O’s, is your lovely, lovely final. Rubber match today … 




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