Written by Mike Laws
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… Well, and Chris Davis had a nice night, too
Orioles 4, Chicago White Sox 2
Don’t make Chris Davis angry. You wouldn’t like it when he’s angry. You might strike him out in the first inning, like White Sox starter Hector Santiago did to get himself off the ropes early in last night’s ballgame — the lefty walked Nick Markakis, gave up consecutive singles to Manny Machado and Adam Jones, fell behind literally every hitter he faced and had the bullpen warming behind him, but climbed out of the 2-0 hole he’d dug himself against the cleanup-hitting Davis, ringing No. 19 up on a series of up-the-ladder fastballs — but Chris, apparently, really resents being made any kind of steppingstone for a pitcher to tiptoe out of trouble. In his next at-bat against the southpaw, in the fourth, the Oriole slugger didn’t bother with the whole taking-pitches approach; instead he went with the first delivery from Santiago, truthfully a pretty decent fastball running off the outside corner, and sliced it down the line to left — another example of how a Chris Davis fly ball is simply not scaled to fit your average major-league park. It’s not really fair. This one didn’t look like a homer, off the bat. It didn’t sound like a homer. But it also didn’t come back down to Earth until it’d traveled something like 350 feet the other way, thudding down beyond the fence and into the White Sox bullpen.
And Davis, by the way, wasn’t done yet …
But first we’ll give due credit to Santiago, who after Jones’s single plated Markakis back in the first had settled right down — almost like he’d flicked a switch; it was kinda weird — fanning both Davis and Matt Wieters and flying J.J. Hardy out to left to sit the bullpen right back down. And the relievers would stay seated; Santiago, despite needing twenty-five pitches to get through that first frame of work, wound up going seven strong, with only the aforementioned fourth-inning long ball sullying his line through the final six. Through the second and third the Chicago starter faced the bare-minimum six Oriole batsmen, whiffing Markakis and Machado to conclude extended at-bats in the third; after the Davis home run he’d concede only a single (to Markakis) in the fifth and a two-out double (Nolan Reimold, inside the bag at third) in the seventh. The Orioles might’ve let him off the hook, back in the first, but you’d have to say it was equally the case that Santiago simply found his A-game, following his first three hitters, keeping the Birds off-balance most of the night with a potent mixture of a junk-baller’s off-speed stuff (split-change, spiked curve, cutters and even screwballs) and a fastball he can run up into the 94-mph range.
Thing was, effective as Santiago proved, Oriole newcomer Scott Feldman stayed right there with him, matching the southpaw virtually pitch for pitch (the principal difference being, sadly, that Feldman’s ninety-eight total pitches through six meant his night was over before the O’s had a chance to get him the win). Like Santiago, Feldman struggled in the first — though in kind of the reverse of the Chicago starter: The Baltimore right-hander recorded two quick outs before Alexis Rios singled to left, stole second, and came around to score courtesy of the double Adam Dunn swatted into the right-center gap on a laid-in 2-1 fastball. After which Dayan Viciedo chipped a single to right before last night’s hero, Conor Gillaspie, thankfully struck out swinging. But also like Santiago, Feldman calmed considerably starting in the second — er, after Jeff Keppinger’s leadoff double, anyway. The newest Oriole grounded Gordon Beckham (another of last night’s big-time contributors) out to second, advancing Keppinger to third with just the one out, but proceeded to come up with a big caught-looking K of Tyler Flowers on a fastball Feldman sneaked right by the White Sox catcher, then induced an Alejandro De Aza groundball down the line to first to retire the side. From there Feldman cruised, relying largely on a swing-and-miss-quality 12-6 curve, a nice complement to the cutter he throws with more frequency than probably anyone whose name is not Mariano Rivera, retiring the side in order in the third, fourth and sixth, though he had something of a hiccup in the fifth, when Beckham turned on a middle-in fastball for his first home run of the year, erasing the lead Davis had given the Birds and knotting this thing at 2.
Which is, given the quality of the starting pitching, and given Darren O’Day’s fine seventh inning (a one-out single, nothing else), right where we would stay till the eighth, when Robin Ventura, his hand forced by Santiago’s 123 total deliveries on the evening, finally went to his bullpen. Righty Matt Lindstrom did strike Machado out (making it a rare three-K night, for the youngster), but surrendered singles to Markakis (to center) and Jones (rolled through the 5/6 hole) and found himself lifted in favor of lefty matchup-man Matt Thornton, on to face Davis. Now, if we were debating the wisdom of such a move — Thornton had retired Davis the preceding night, but only after the big man smashed a topspin rocket directly at Rios, in right — we’d probably only gotten midway through the thought when the Oriole first baseman, again in no mood to wait and take a look at a few offerings, leapt at Thornton’s first-pitch breaking ball, ripping it down the right-field line, where it landed fair by a matter of inches and rolled into the corner. Markakis scored. Jones, simply flying, scored as well. Davis’s second and third runs-batted-in of the night, and twenty-fifth double of the season, had staked the O’s to a 4-2 lead.
That would be the same scoreline Jim Johnson was called upon to preserve, though in truth the O’s probably should’ve broken it open in their half of the ninth. Following a ten-pitch nothin’-doin’ half-inning from the typically superb Tommy Hunter, the Birds had loaded ’em up against ChiSox right-hander Ramon Troncoso (the latest in Gary Thorne’s parade of butchered surnames, by the way), the product of a Nate McLouth leadoff double to right-center, a pinch-hit walk from Chris Dickerson, a sacrifice from Brian Roberts and an intentional free pass issued to Markakis — with the strategy paying off when Machado bounced meekly back to Troncoso (or, for Thorne, “-Costco”), which the reliever flipped home to Flowers for the force (and which might’ve started a 1-2-3 double play but for McLouth’s takeout slide — of the catcher). Anyway Jones then found himself up in the count 2-0, but if you were thinking this might be an apt time for his first walk since like April, you were gonna be sorely disappointed; the soon-to-be All-Star center fielder popped out to second to retire the side. Dang. Really should’ve tacked on at least another run there …
Because we know how, um, interesting Johnson has tended to make his saves this year. Tonight was no different. The sinkerballing closer grounded Viciedo to second to record the first out in the Chicago ninth — but then Gillaspie singled to left, bringing the potential tie run to the dish in the person of Keppinger … who likewise stroked a single over third. Is it to be another blown save, another soul-crushing late loss, erasing all the good that preceded the meltdown? Mercifully, the answer was no. Johnson dusted himself off, talked briefly with a concerned Wieters, and rebounded to ring up Beckham on three pitches, the second of them a wicked off-the-table curve, the last a two-seamer that tailed back over the outside corner (or at least, so said home-plate ump Sam Holbrook). Johnson then fell 2-0 to Jordan Danks, li’l-bro of last night’s winning starter John, before coming back with a strike and, finally, getting the pinch hitter to tap back to him for the final out. Phew. OK. O’s bounce back to take the fifth of their last six, hang on to win 4-2, set up the Independence Day rubber match. See you then.
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