Written by Mike Laws
Homer-happy O’s get multi-run shots from all three All-Star starters
Toronto 5, Orioles 8
Watching last night’s first of three at home against Toronto, I was reminded of the concept known as justifying your seed. No, it has nothing to do with reproductive rights (if that’s what you were thinking, Michael Bluth). It’s a tennis thing, actually. It’s pretty simple: Progress far enough in a tournament to meet the expectation set by your pre-tourney ranking, and you’ve done it. So e.g. when Federer, ranked #4, reaches the semis, or when Sharapova, #2, makes the final, he/she has justified the seed.
Now, of course, baseball players don’t get slotted into seeds — not officially. Unofficially, it happens pretty much everywhere you look. Ken Rosenthal says Trout’s the better young outfielder than Harper. Rotoworld puts Harvey ahead of Kershaw, in the power rankings relating to NL starting pitchers. Keith Law’s got pretty much everyone in the AL who’s not a Baltimore Oriole ahead of anyone who is. (This is all rhetorical license, of course. The examples above are purely hypothetical, though the Keith Law one sounds like something he might actually say.)
And when it comes All-Star time, the starting lineup — as determined by the fans — is a whole ’nother can of worms. At times you can’t even hear the names of the selections over the grousing: It’s a popularity contest! No one’s remembering the second half of last season! Thirty-five votes per email address? It’s a joke! Rabble rabble rabble rabble!
All of which can be valid complaints (well, save the South Park thing). But for anyone feeling incredulous as to whether three Orioles could possibly belong among the American League’s starting nine (as if the Baltimore market were big enough or had the computing power to corrupt the voting process more than it already is), Friday night’s game offered — to the degree any one game can — a justification of the three All-Stars’ selection.
First, you had Chris Davis. After Baltimore starter Chris Tillman and Blue Jay counterpart Mark Buehrle traded one-two-three firsts — and after Tillman, in the second, surrendered a two-out, two-run homer to Oriole-killing Toronto catcher J.P. Arencibia — the Oriole first baseman strode to the dish with one on and no one out, following Adam Jones’s leadoff double sliced down into the corner in right. Now, Davis had homered in the previous ballgame (the finale against the Texas Rangers), but to say he carried a hot bat into the opener with the Jays would be to overlook the fact that he was just 2 for his last 27, though still, both those hits were long balls; it seems even a slumping Crush poses a not-insignificant home-run threat. For here, again, making it 3 for his last 28, Davis looked initially fooled by Buehrle’s off-speed junk, falling into a 1-2 hole before busting out against an outer-half fastball, on which he got extended enough to drive the thing just out of Oriole Park to left, maybe a row or two back into the seats (with a cohort of Blue Jay fans, it should be noted, eliminating any final chance Rajai Davis had at executing an over-the-wall grab — which will not be the last word I have regarding fans’ attitude toward securing home-run balls).
So that tied this one right back up at 2-all, but it wouldn’t last long. In his third frame of work Tillman got Jose Reyes to foul out and Jose Bautista to strike out (which was now the second of the hated right fielder’s eventual four K’s, which was simply delicious to witness), but then Edwin Encarnacion drilled a meaty 2-0 offering way, way out to left. A no-doubter, and things now stood at 3-2, Jays.
But, again, not for long. Like the Jays in their half, the O’s made a quick pair of outs in the bottom of the third, but then Manny Machado sent a slow roller past Buehrle and beyond second, with Reyes unable to make any kind of play, and Nick Markakis slapped one of his patented other-way singles to left, keeping the inning alive for Jones, who fell into a 1-2 pitcher’s count, was just able to tap another off-speed delivery foul, took a second ball, then — somehow, practically with his back knee scraping the dirt — went down and golfed a breaking ball all the way out to left-center (where the celebration of the first Baltimore lead of the night got dampened, a little, by the sight of a rather portly fellow inadvertently baring most of his ample torso whilst attempting to dive over what looked like a row of small children, in pursuit of the baseball). In any case, it was now 5-3, the Orioles now on top.
They’d stay there the rest of the way, though to say Tillman calmed down and enjoyed a succession of easy lead-protecting innings would be stretching matters. And speaking of stretching, witness the punishment doled out by Jones following what looked like certain extra bases on a ball Arencibia torched into the right-center field gap, in the very next half-inning, with one away in the Toronto fourth. The Oriole center fielder had to sprint just to get to the gap-splitting drive, lest it roll all the way to the wall — but for Jones, cutting the ball off was only half the battle: Now nearly to the warning track, he whirled and heaved, somehow lining up his sights mid-flight, and delivering a strike in the air all the way to second base, where J.J. Hardy (more on him in a minute) applied a sweep-tag to the diving Arencibia, who was actually, however improbably, out by several feet. Whew. Right up there for Defensive Play of the Year, along with Machado’s Brooks Robinson impression from last Sunday in New York, this one also kept the Jays from thinking too much about getting themselves right back into this ballgame; Tillman proceeded to ground Mark DeRosa out to third to retire the side, and would go on to work his way out of a fifth-inning jackpot (a walk and a single; another Bautista strikeout, a double-play groundout from Encarnacion), then stranded an infield single from Colby Rasmus in the sixth, bringing the starter’s night to a close.
But clearly, as they’d prove, the Jays possessed too high-octane an offense for the Orioles to rest on the laurels of this two-run lead. Better get some more runs up there. And in their half of the sixth, the Orioles would get it done, with Jones and Davis notching back-to-back singles (hey! a non-dinger base hit from Chris!) before Matt Wieters lifted an infield fly, but no sooner had we commenced the grumbling about the Oriole backstop’s apparent inability to bunt than Hardy walloped another of those lovely three-run shots, also to left. All-Star selections, consider yourselves justified! 8-3, now.
So it was only a matter of protecting the now-more-than-ample cushion. Newcomer Jairo Asencio was up to the task, overcoming some early nerves (a walk of DeRosa, a fielder’s-choice comebacker he nearly threw away, a Reyes single) to fan both Bautista (hell yeah) and Encarnacion (also good to see), employing a dynamite late-action changeup to such an extent that it’s almost a misnomer to call it that (it’s like a Zen koan: If your off-speed pitch accounts for more than half your deliveries, doesn’t the fastball then become the changeup?). Good to see, from the erstwhile closer for the Norfolk Tides …
And while Brian Matusz could only get the one out, in the eighth, and surrendered a hard-hit single to Rasmus and another pesky infield hit to R. Davis, Tommy Hunter was right there to relieve the reliever, popping Arencibia up to second and flying DeRosa out to center, putting the O’s just three outs away from taking the opener — though Hunter, too, would need some relief, after notching two outs in the top of the ninth but then also getting knocked around a bit, on a single from Reyes and a long single (off the very top of the wall in left) from Encarnacion and a two-run double hooked inside the bag at first from Adam Lind. The tie run on deck, the “Seven Nation Army” chants momentarily quelled, it was now a save situation — and you know, in Buck Showalter’s playbook, that means Jim Johnson must pitch. By which, fortunately, I mean that the Oriole closer earned himself the rare one-delivery save: On his very first offering, Johnson grounded Rasmus out to second, and this one was in the books. All their runs hailing from the long ball, and all the long balls hailing from their All-Star starters, the Birds take game one of the three-game weekender against a division rival. Hard to argue with that.
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