Written by Mike Laws
Of hurlers and homers
Behind Gonzalez, O’s earn series split; kissing your sister has never been so sweet
Texas 1, Orioles 3
Should this six-man starting rotation Buck Showalter’s trotting out ever find itself reduced to the usual five, I think it’s safe to assume Wei-Yin Chen’s and Miguel Gonzalez’s spots are secure.
If the Taiwanese southpaw had thrown down the proverbial gauntlet with his Wednesday-night performance against the Texas Rangers — seven innings of three-hit, one-run baseball — Gonzalez met the challenge, delivering six and two-thirds frames of quality work, surrendering, like Chen, just the one run, in the righty’s case on four total hits. (Which I guess means Chen has marginal bragging rights, at least for the moment, though it’s anyone’s guess as to whether the two hurlers — who appear to get along famously, if MASN dugout-shots are to be trusted — can actually understand each other’s language well enough to boast.)
Anyway, it’s late, as I type this, so let’s sum up Gonzalez’s latest superb effort with a few telling stats: He retired the Texas side in order in the first, third and fourth, with only an infield single from pesky Mitch Moreland — a rocket one-hopper to second that Brian Roberts could only prevent from reaching the outfield, but not actually snare — spoiling the fun in the second. But between that first Ranger hit and the one-out single Moreland (blast him) would notch in the fifth, Gonzalez had retired eight straight opposing batsmen; and in the fifth, though he’d wind up issuing his first walk of the evening, which meant runners on first and second with two down, Miguel the Unflappable dusted himself off and summoned a grounder to second off the bat of Leonys Martin to end the threat.
In the sixth he’d falter a bit, coughing up a leadoff homer to Ian Kinsler before yielding another single, this time to Nelson Cruz — but then erased Cruz, and got himself out of the inning, by way of one of those timely 6-4-3 twin-killings we love so much (not to mention that this particular double play came from Adrian Beltre, who hasn’t exactly shown himself to be the easiest out in this series). Also, by that point, Gonzalez had something of a cushion to work with — though, admittedly, not much of one, the result of either a) the Oriole bats suddenly going inexplicably cold against another spot-starter (Ivan Nova, anyone?) or b) that spot-starter, ex-Oriole farmhand Ross Wolf, feeling extra-vengeful against his former organization. But if that was the case, Wolf should’ve considered that that coin has two sides: for Chris Davis, himself a Ranger castoff, despite being mired in a ghastly 0-for-17 skid, greeted Wolf in the Oriole second with one of his titanic blasts to right-center, good at the time for a 1-0 Baltimore lead. That was the first home-team hit of the night; the second came in the Birds’ next turn at the dish, with Roberts unloading on a fastball middle-in, sending it out to right. 2-0, and the game of homers was officially on.
Or, if you like, the pitchers’ duel. Because apart from those bombs and the Kinsler shot to lead off the sixth, not much else happened, offensively speaking, until very late in the contest. After walking Jurickson Profar with two away in the seventh, Gonzalez gave way to Troy Patton, who fanned David Murphy (on what was probably ball four, but was a good enough eye-level-changer of a high/inside tailing fastball that Murphy couldn’t hold up), retiring the side. Patton wouldn’t fare so well in the eighth, which Martin led off with a single rolled back through the box, and himself exited in favor of Darren O’Day — who, before he’d thrown a single pitch, watched as Davis let a pickoff attempt handcuff him, the ball nutmegging the Oriole first baseman and bounding off down into foul territory down the line in right. Martin now stood on second, the potential game-tying run. Not good. But O’Day, he don’t let that stuff get him down. He a man, boy. The side-armer delivered a slider of such quality to Kinsler that the Ranger DH cued the pitch foul with such weird wicked spin that it whorled out of the dirt and back into fair territory just in front of the left-hand batter’s box; Kinsler didn’t run, at first, as Matt Wieters pounced and looked Martin back to the bag at second and took his sweet time in tossing the ball over to Davis for the inning’s first out. O’Day then got Elvis Andrus to pop to short. Still Martin had to stay put. Sweet! One out away from escape — and O’Day got it, flying Cruz out to right to conclude the eighth.
So the O’s were just a Jim Johnson save away from taking this one and splitting the four-game set — but that was a scenario that might look a whole lot rosier with another run on the board, don’tcha think? And while the prospects for the insurance marker didn’t look great, initially — Wieters ripped a, ahem, single over first base and all the way to the wall, but then J.J. Hardy popped out and Roberts struck out — here was a chance for a little two-out magic off reliever Jason Frasor. Nolan Reimold kept the Oriole eighth alive with a single ripped through the 5/6 hole on the first pitch he saw; the slightly more patient (understatement!) Nate McLouth followed by ripping a fastball pinged for the outer half back up the middle and over second, far enough to center fielder Martin’s left that Wieters could chug around third and slide in and score. 3-1 …
Which, as it turned out, provided the breathing room Johnson would need. The Oriole closer still didn’t make it look easy, but the good news was that the two smacked singles he surrendered came on either side of a double-play ball tapped back to him by A.J. Pierzynski (on an 0-2 sinker that followed the rare Johnson changeup, which had fooled the Ranger backstop badly, and set up the next pitch nicely). The final little minor cardiac episode came when Profar tugged a sharp bouncer down the first-base line, where Davis, ranging back and to his left (back and to the left; back, and to the left), flagged the thing down and gathered and flipped to the covering Johnson in just enough time to nab the hustling Curaçaoan and end the ballgame. And yes I did include the demonym relevant to Profar strictly so as to use the cédille (as well as to get to use the loanword cédille). Boom. O’s win, 3-1, split the series with the Rangers, take on Toronto next. Bautista, look out, you punk.
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