Wheels Coming Off
Written by Mike Laws
Wheels coming off
In first of four at Camden, Indians strike for five unanswered
Cleveland 5, Orioles 2
Where has all the power gone?
OK, to be fair, in my haste to pun on the old folk song I may have conveniently overlooked the fact both Oriole runs on Monday night came by way of the long ball: Nick Markakis’s first- and Matt Wieters’s fourth-inning blasts to center.
You’ll note, however, that both were solo shots. Which, if you’re a pitcher, is what you want. You also want an opposing team that’s not going to punish you by ever converting on all those ducks out there on the pond.
So if you were Cleveland starter Ubaldo Jimenez, you had to be one pretty happy customer indeed. Read on — the bullet points:
- Right, so maybe it wasn’t a matter of the home-run power having up and left the club entirely; maybe it’s the ability to produce extra-base hits in a timely fashion that’s deserted the Birds of late. Consider: In none of his five completed innings did Jimenez retire the Orioles in one-two-three fashion, and the only frames in which the home team didn’t leave men stranded on base were those where Markakis had already homered (the first) or Adam Jones got caught stealing to end the frame (the fifth). In the second the O’s left ’em loaded, with Nate McLouth fouling out following a pair of two-out walks and a Ryan Flaherty base hit. In the third Markakis and Jones notched back-to-back one-out singles — but Chris Davis flied out and J.J. Hardy struck out to retire the side. And in the fourth, following Wieters’s big fly, Baltimore would squander whatever opportunity for additional damage Flaherty’s one-out bunt single represented (though, hey, silver lining: Flaherty’s actually, like, doing stuff with the bat now).
- Meanwhile, Zach Britton had given the O’s just about all they could’ve asked for out of just his second start since being recalled, taking a two-hitter (both of the hits being singles) with him into the sixth. True, Britton had walked three additional Cleveland batsmen, and hit one with a pitch, but he was also producing good enough swing-and-miss stuff — which has been in short supply, of late; see O’Day, Darren, a couple bullet points down — to summon repeated big strikeouts. Surely a large part of Britton’s success, either with the K (of which he had five, including two in the second and two in the third) or with the ground ball, came down to secondary pitches: From the get-go, the left-hander established that he could snap off the big hook for a strike, keeping Indian hitters honest and largely off-balance, and enabling Zack to sneak a fastball right on by. Arguably the only real mistake the starter made wasn’t even his own doing — it was getting left in too long, after surrendering a Jason Kipnis double, Nick Swisher RBI single and Carlos Santana two-bagger to begin the sixth. The lead now halved, and with men on second and third and nobody out, I thought Buck Showalter made the right call in intentionally walking old pal Mark Reynolds (or at least, pitching around him and then delivering an intentional ball four when the count was already 3-0) — but surely the IBB should’ve been the suddenly-hittable Britton’s final act, in this one. Instead the starter was given just enough rope to hang himself, with Michael Brantley (more on him, too, in a sec) jumping all over the southpaw’s second delivery of the at-bat, depositing a two-run single into center. And all of a sudden Terry Francona’s club has the lead …
- But a big tip of the hat to Tommy Hunter, here, who erased all memory of the weekend’s infamous Kawasaki Incident (and no, I’m not talking about a jet-ski mishap; Hunter’s not Sidney Ponson). Called upon to stanch the bleeding — two on, none out — Hunter summarily began with the pounding of the zone: mostly with fastballs, most of them 96-plus, with a couple nasty sliders mixed in for good measure. He struck out Ryan Raburn. Got Drew Stubbs to lift one out to left. Flied Michael Bourn out to center. Impressive …
- Even so — and even though Hunter would also work a scoreless seventh — the bats were actually somehow looking even more listless as the evening wore on. Far from the usual late-inning theatrics, here we had the offense going down meekly against prototypical crafty lefty Rich Hill, who stranded Jimenez’s inherited runner (Hardy, who’d singled to lead things off) more than capably in the sixth, then cruised through a one-two-three seventh, followed by the memorably named Joe Smith, who did likewise in the Oriole eighth …
- Which by that point this was no longer a one-run game, the product of O’Day’s sudden inability to put a batter away. Spelling Hunter, O’Day jumped out ahead of Reynolds nothing-and-two before nibbling around off the outer half, eventually falling full before Reynolds smashed a single through the left side. Pretty much the same happened in the subsequent at-bat, against Brantley, who’s looking to be the Indians’ version of Brian Dozier, or Maicer Izturis, or Avisail Garcia — that is, the unheralded/no-name who does bookoo damage. O’Day got ahead 1-2, this time, before Brantley fouled off a succession of attempted out-pitches, then clubbed one well over the out-of-town scoreboard up onto the flag court or somewhere around there. The point is it was now 5-2, and that a still-shellshocked-looking O’Day had to be lifted in favor of first Brian Matusz and then Jim Johnson, both of whom looked fine …
- While the offense, just to cement what a cruddy effort it’d turned in, did the whole hope-and-deflation routine again in the ninth, against Cleveland closer Vinnie Pestano, which really sounds like a name from Jersey Shore. Pestano struck Wieters out swinging and flied pinch hitter Chris Dickerson harmlessly to left, but then walked Flaherty (who in addition to the base hits is showing good patience, particularly on a very-close 1-2 pitch) and coughed up a single over second to McLouth, setting the stage for Manny Machado, who could tie the game with just one swing, and had Camden Yards suddenly animated in a way it hadn’t been since a couple hours before, and … went after the first pitch, and lined it medium-soft to short for the anticlimactic game-ending out. No comeback here. 5-2 is your final.
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