Written by Mike Laws
A party-time excellent Chen masterful in return from injury
Texas 1, Orioles 6
If only every game looked like this. The message boards would be so much happier. We’d all be going gray so much slower. Our spouses and significant others and sometimes our parents wouldn’t have to chide us for hurling things at the TV.
OK, maybe every game’s a tad unrealistic. But you’d certainly like to see more ballgames where the starter goes seven deep. Where the offense busts out early to post a crooked enough number that not every subsequent defensive half-inning’s a tightrope. Where the bullpen gets a much-needed breather. Where, in short, the Orioles win comfortably.
Here’s the craziest thing about Wei-Yin Chen’s first start in nearly two months — and surely the scariest aspect to consider, if you’re a scout for an opposing club — that the lefty, so miserly in this, game three against the heretofore-prolific Texas Ranger offense, actually did show some signs of rust. This was mostly confined to the four walks he peppered in over his seven innings of work, but it’s also true that Chen delivered a first-pitch strike to only about half of the batters he faced over that span.
Still, as I’ve indicated, the Taiwanese national had more than enough to overcome any bouts of wildness. In the first he rallied from down 3-1 to fly Ian Kinsler out to center to lead the ballgame off. Then he fanned Jurickson Profar and rang up Nelson Cruz to cap a pair of extended (eight-pitch, in both cases) at-bats. In the second Chen issued a two-out walk, bookending it with a foul-out induced off the bat of the red-hot Adrian Beltre, another strikeout (A.J. Pierzynski) and a groundball to second to retire the side without further incident. In the third he’d need only six pitches; in the fourth, finally, Chen surrendered the first Texas base hit of the muggy July evening — but Beltre’s single to center came with two away and mattered not a whit, with Chen flying Pierzynski harmlessly out to center. And in the fifth, though Elvis Andrus drew a leadoff walk, the southpaw rebounded nicely to set the side down on the strength of no more than eight additional deliveries.
By the time of Chen’s one (slightly) troublesome inning, the sixth — which, even then, a leadoff walk and a single and a double only bought the Rangers a single run, and even that came by way of run-scoring fielder’s choice when Manny Machado had trouble getting the ball out of his glove on what probably should’ve been an inning-ending double-play ball — Chen by that point had a more-than-ample six-run lead with which to work. (How many times have we gotten to say that, this season? Not nearly enough, by my count.) After failing to produce despite a two-single first inning against Josh Lindblom, the Bird-bats finally came around beginning in the third, when Nate McLouth narrowly legged out an infield single to first, beating the relay to the covering Lindblom, and Machado (3-5, on the night) followed by crushing a triple to the gap in deep left-center. (Hey, Manny, stop at second, kid! You’ve got records to break!) Nick Markakis popped out just beyond the drawn-in Andrus at short to record the inning’s second out, but Adam Jones — proving that the Orioles must’ve gotten something of a stern talking-to regarding the length of their at-bats — drew a walk to cap a marvelous at-bat that saw him lay off at least four of those sliders breaking low and away he’s usually so tempted by, keeping the inning alive for Chris Davis, mired in by far his longest-lasting slump of 2013, to … well, strike out swinging — but not before Lindblom uncorked a wild pitch that permitted Machado to trot on in with the second Oriole run thus far.
They’d follow the act with an even more impressive performance in their very next turn at the dish. Matt Wieters walked, laying off a couple sliders that just missed, breaking inside under his hands. J.J. Hardy walked, working his way back from a 1-2 hole. Brian Roberts took a ball, fouled a couple Lindblom offerings off, took another ball, then connected on a rocket-shot deep into the gap in right-center; Engel Beltre ranged way back, leaping at the end of his run and getting a glove on it — maybe even bringing it back from over the wall — but couldn’t hold on; the ball popped out of the palm of his mitt and rolled along the top of the wall before settling on the warning track … where a covering Cruz picked it up and fired it back in, with luckily none of the Texas infield seeming to realize that Wieters, who’d had to hold to make sure the drive wasn’t caught, and had returned to second, should he need to tag, was now chugging around third at just an epically tortoise-like rate, thankfully managing to score without the Rangers ever realizing they’d have a play at the plate. Hardy, who’d in turn had to hold, too, made it to third. Roberts stopped at first. (Certainly the best-hit single we’ve seen all year.) But if we were now grousing about the play failing to do all the damage it could, not least because it was inches away from going for a three-run dinger, Nolan Reimold quieted everyone pretty quickly. Not even slated to start, and called upon only after Chris Dickerson tweaked something or other in batting practice, Reimold jumped on the first pitch he saw from Lindblom, sending a towering shot down the left-field line. It looked foul; the crowd didn’t seem to react much; neither, for that matter, did the ever-excitable Gary Thorne. And yet somehow — a sudden gust of wind? the spin on the ball from Reimold’s frankly-kind-of-odd-looking down-cut hack? — the ball sliced back inside the foul pole, and landed with a thud somewhere around the third row of seats in fair territory directly down the line. The baseball gods, evidently, weren’t going to be content without a three-run Oriole home run. (Maybe the baseball gods really like Papa John’s.)
And though the Birds wouldn’t do much more at the plate the rest of the way — even failing to chase Lindblom, who’d go on to strand a subsequent Machado single and a double Jones absolutely smoked past A. Beltre at third, then somehow remain in the ballgame until he’d walked McLouth in the sixth, by which point he’d thrown a hundred and nineteen pitches — the six runs was more than enough, thanks to Chen’s effort. The Oriole starter bounced back from that tired-looking sixth for an easy eight-pitch one-two-three seventh; Tommy Hunter came on in the eighth and proceeded to slam the door shut completely, surrendering only a one-out single to Pierzynski in the ninth, which he promptly erased by way of a game-ending 6-4-3 double play. O’s win, 6-1, with a chance at avoiding the series loss on Thursday against not-Yu Darvish (scratched due to a trapezius issue), and against an at-least-somewhat-depleted Ranger ’pen, and not to mention with Miguel Gonzalez providing probably a prime opportunity at another stress-free W. Nice.
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