Halfway And Happy
Written by Mike Laws
Halfway and happy
Gausman holds down fort for O’s late offensive
New York Yankees 3, Orioles 4
Warning: OriolesHangout.com has scanned the following attempt at a snappy introductory paragraph-fragment and issued an Orange Alert under the proprietary Cringe-Inducing Pun Advisory System (CIPAS), currently in beta. Hangout Ventures LLC is herewith indemnified against any and all future damages incurred by the act of reading on, including but not limited to: eye-strain from double-takes at the horrid obviousness of the double-entendre; the deepening of furrows in the brow due to reflexive recoil at thoroughly unoriginal triteness; esophageal deterioration as a ramification of acid reflux from all the “uggggh”ing, etc. Caveat emptor.
OK, whoa. Overly litigious much? All I was gonna say was that with their win in Friday night’s series opener with the loathsome Yanks, the Baltimore Orioles had certainly bucked a few trends.
See, that wasn’t so bad, was it? I mean, maybe orthography (i.e., “bucked” vs. “Buck’d”) gets in the way, a little, when it’s written down … but still. Especially after such a buildup — you might say all the lawyering took the bat out of my hands, when it came to that joke.
Ah, to hell with it. On to the bullet points:
- But seriously, all lame or meta- or lamely meta-punch lines aside, I did want to make a point about the welcome eradication of certain team-wide or managerial tendencies. Because if the past season and a half has unveiled an Orioles club that’s mercifully put certain undesirable habits to rest — say, haplessness on Sundays, or ineptitude against lefties, or that little matter of never compiling a winning record over 162 games — there remained a niggling annoyance or two. Like how the Birds could never seem to get the best of CC Sabathia (and this despite that newfound facility with southpaws) …
- Though we can’t really start there, with the story of tonight’s contest, because Sabathia through five looked more or less like he usually does, against the O’s: He didn’t allow a baserunner until the third (and even then, it took an error for Alexi Casilla to reach), needed only eight pitches to retire the side in two separate frames (the second, the fourth), and — oh, yeah — had yet to surrender a base hit. To say the prospects weren’t looking too favorable, against the beefy lefty, would be to understate the situation considerably.
- Especially given that Sabathia’s counterpart, Oriole starter T.J. McFarland — also a sinistral hurler bearing an initialed cognomen (though McFarland doesn’t insist that there be no periods, in his, when newspapers reproduce it) — had by that point already exited the ballgame, following an altogether forgettable two and two-thirds innings of work in which he coughed up a run almost immediately (a Brett Gardner double, a Robinson Cano single). The spot-starter somehow avoided additional trouble in the second, despite a leadoff single and a stolen base and a one-out walk, but the respite would prove temporary. Making his third trip to the hill, McFarland gave in to Jayson Nix for yet another inning-opening single, this one following a protracted leadoff at-bat; Cano followed with a knock of his own, to right; Vernon Wells completed the trifecta with an RBI roller back through the box. And though McFarland would retire both Ichiro Suzuki and Zoilo (“Not Danny”) Almonte, that would be all he’d get, earning the hook after a two-out Chris Stewart (you guessed it) single plated the third Yankee run of the young evening.
- And so, enter Kevin Gausman. Who some of us might’ve felt should’ve gotten the nod for the emergency start from the get-go, being as Gausman’s only been a starter, and McFarland only a long reliever, thus far, and all … but I digress. The studly prospect caught his first batter, the dangerous David Adams, looking at a payoff pitch to retire the Yankees in the third, stranding McFarland’s inherited runners at first and second. He then fanned Alberto (“Not the Attorney General”) Gonzalez and Nix, in the fourth, pausing amid all the missed bats just long enough to surrender an ultimately harmless single to Gardner. In the fifth he’d attempt a little one-upmanship against Sabathia, ultimately failing to outdo the second of the big man’s eight-pitch innings, though of course failure is a relative thing, especially given the rookie’s outstanding ten-pitch second full frame of work. And Gausman’s sixth wasn’t much worse than that; he got Stewart to whiff before permitting an Adams single, then bore down against Gonzalez and Gardner, putting each away with just one pitch.
- The seventh, too, went swimmingly for the big gangly kid with the Mussina-esque delivery and the not-even-there facial hair: thirteen pitches in total, despite a one-out single. But the big news by this point wasn’t that Gausman had completely silenced what had looked (against McFarland) to be some rather restless Bomber bats — it was that the kid might just wind up getting himself in line for his first big-league win. For, notwithstanding just how thoroughly Sabathia had held the Oriole offense in check through five, now, somehow, it had gotten itself primed to attack. Nate McLouth led things off in the Baltimore sixth with the first hit of the night off the big man (he’d also deliver the last; but hold that thought). Following McLouth’s 0-2 spank over second was the first of a couple tremendously important swinging bunts, this one coming from Casilla on the heels of a preternaturally patient at-bat in which the Oriole second baseman fouled off pitch after pitch (nicking and ticking them, mostly) and took a pair of balls, one a backdoor curve, one a running Sabathia fastball, that missed by what must’ve been micrometers. Anyway, Casilla’s weak topper found its way perfectly into the Bermuda Triangle betwixt mound and first, with Sabathia eventually being the one to field the baseball, at which point he found himself with no one to throw to over at first, Cano apparently having decided that covering a base other than second is not something the Yankees are making him incredibly rich to do. Hey, worked out nicely for the O’s. And Manny Machado would certainly take advantage. Taking to the dish with one away, the Baltimore wunderkind took a called strike, then a pair of pitches off the plate inside, before getting his arms extended on an outer-half fastball, going with the offering the other way for a low hard liner stroked exactly where the New York defense wasn’t, good for a gapper that rolled all the way to the wall and scored both runners. Kid sure likes his doubles, don’t he? Manny’s rip had made it 3-2, still with just the one out; and now witness a heads-up, though potentially risky, read on a J.J. Hardy fly hit just deep enough to center to let Machado scoot over to third, where a better throw might’ve had him, but thankfully the throw wasn’t. Better. The point is that without that fine attention to detail, that commitment to wringing every extra base possible out of what the Yankee defense was giving, Machado would’ve never been able to come in with the tying run when Adam Jones punched the inning’s second swinging-bunt infield single down the first-base line. And who knows? Without the tag-up play, maybe McLouth’s just-fair flag-court wallop leading off the Oriole seventh — maybe that would’ve only tied this particular ballgame, rather than setting Sabathia up to take the loss (not to mention exact some small measure of revenge for the strikingly similar down-the-line blast ruled a foul ball in the deciding game of the 2012 ALDS).
- Of course, in the absence of an effective closer — as we’ve seen a few too many times for most O’s fans’ liking, this season — this spirited comeback might have once again gone for naught. But here’s where Buck saw fit to spring another trend-reversing managerial surprise on us all. While up to this point the Baltimore skipper has often come off as frustratingly doctrinaire in his use of Jim Johnson, and only Jim Johnson, all the time, no matter what, so long as it’s a save opportunity, it would appear Showalter has undergone something of a philosophical shift. After all, if Tommy Hunter has looked pretty great for most of 2013, and if Hunter looked pretty great again tonight, in a ten-pitch eighth — well, why mess with what’s working, so long as what’s working isn’t overly red in the face? Accordingly, emerging from the dugout to take the hill for the Yankee ninth, it was the (nominal) setup man, rather than the (nominal) closer, No. 29 rather than No. 43 — Hunter out to make his bid for the nowadays-rare two-inning save. The hard-tossing righty fanned Gardner, capping an eight-pitch AB. Then he whiffed Nix, too, requiring half that many deliveries. And what about Cano, the sure-to-be-starting second baseman in this year’s All-Star Game in NYC? The formidably sweet-swinging slugger, possessed of more than enough power to knot this thing right back up again in the proverbial New York minute? Nah, Hunter wasn’t having that. Tonight’s closer jumped out ahead 0-2, then fired in a fastball up and away (and at a cool 98 mph), getting the Yankee second baseman to bounce down to Machado at third for the game-ending groundout. Gausman gets the W, with Manny’s big-time clutch-ness (clutch-ocity?) tying this thing up, and McLouth’s vengeful drive putting the O’s over the top. So long, Curse of CC. So long, dogmatic bullpen management. Now over the halfway hump, things are looking up in Birdland.
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