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  • Jul

    Stars Still Shining

    Written by Mike Laws

    Stars still shining

    Jones-Davis-Hardy trifecta powers offense as Feldman sparkles

    Toronto 4, Orioles 7


    Do the Oriole All-Stars suffer from some sort of complex? Maybe it’s a perceived paucity of respect from the national media (ahem, Keith Law, I’m looking at you), or at the very least a lack of attention, like how in last year’s ALDS you could practically hear Joe Buck frantically rifling through the pages of the Oriole Media Guide (that is, on the rare occasion he stopped offering up paeans to Robinson Cano long enough to make a point about a Baltimore player).


    Whatever the case, this weekend homestand against the Toronto Blue Jays — the final series before the 2013 All-Star festivities get under way — made it pretty clear that the Orioles who were selected to start in that largely celebratory, quasi-exhibition game aren’t yet done convincing those who follow the sport that they deserve the honor. (Hey, fellas, the fans picked you! There’s nothing left to prove!)


    But I shouldn’t complain. After all, following a little swoon leading up to the final week of the first half, the bats are back — and a lot of that’s owing to Adam Jones and Chris Davis, who represent the heart of the Baltimore order and the source of much of its output, and who’ve now, by all appearances, busted out of their mini-slumps. (Not to forget J.J. Hardy, either, the starting AL All-Star shortstop, who’d figure prominently in the Toronto series as well.)


    Picture the scene: Following a quick first half-inning from Scott Feldman — more on him in a minute — Nate McLouth greeted Josh Johnson with a rocket right back through the box that nearly took the Jays starter’s ear off. Manny Machado (speaking of All-Stars) then tugged a roller through the 5/6 hole. Nick Markakis (an arguable snub for the game at Citi Field) flied out, advancing McLouth to third, which wound up being key, as Jones fisted a little looper out onto the edge of the infield dirt just between first and second, good for the first Oriole run of the afternoon. Not Jones’s best-hit ball — he’d furnish an example of that later (spoiler alert!) — but whatever. We’ll take it. And Davis followed with the bigger, badder hit on Johnson’s very next delivery, yanking a screamer down the right-field line and into the corner. Machado scored from second. Jones came around from first. The big man stood on second with yet another extra-base hit, and two more RBIs …


    Davis wasn’t done yet. In the third (following one of those eerily silent frames, Johnson getting the Orioles in order in the second), after Markakis grounded out and Jones (gasp!) walked (which — double gasp! — makes that his fourth base-on-balls in his past five games), Davis went with a 1-1 Johnson offering low and away, very likely off the plate, the kind of swing most other left-handed hitters are lucky to dink into short left for a single, but which a beast-mode Crush muscled all the way over the wall in left. Davis’s fourth home run in as many days — and thirty-seventh of the season — and (oh, yeah) fourth RBI of the still-young ballgame, the drive staked the Birds to a comfy 6-0 advantage …


    Which was more than enough for an on-point Feldman, who surrendered a single to Colby Rasmus in the second, but was otherwise perfect through three. He’d falter a tad in the fourth, when Jose (“It’s Not a Strike If I Don’t Swing”) Bautista drew a leadoff walk, Adam Lind stroked a one-out double, and, though Feldman fanned Rasmus and looked momentarily as though he might strand the runners at second and third, pesky Maicer Izturis punched a single into right, converting on both the ducks on the pond. Well, shoot. 6-2, now …


    But, like I was saying, Feldman wasn’t in any kind of mood to let the high-powered Toronto offense back into this one. In the fifth he’d summon a big strikeout of Bautista to end the threat after Jose Reyes singled and stole second; in the sixth he’d get back to that good ol’ one-two-three stuff; he’d repeat the trick in the seventh, needing just ten deliveries to retire the side. And while the one-out Reyes single that bounced him from the ballgame in the top of the eighth would wind up coming around to score on the two-out base-knock Tommy Hunter yielded to Edwin Encarnacion, by that point the Birds, too, had tacked on another run, this one having come back in the fifth, with two away, when the suddenly patient Jones worked the count to 2-2 and spoiled another offering foul before smoking an other-way shot of his own all the way out to right-center. Seems the O’s franchise player has figured a way to deal with all the low and/or away two-strike junk he’s getting fed with two strikes: Look for it, go with it — and hit it hard.


    So anyway, to get back to the later frames, it was now 7-3 entering the ninth, Hunter still on, everything proceeding according to plan — until Rasmus doubled to right and Izturis notched another single, making it 7-4. Wait a minute, what time is it? Oh, that’s right: Jim Johnson time! Trying for his thirty-third save (or, put another way, attempting to avoid his seventh blown save), the Oriole closer, called upon with one man on and nobody out, promptly rang up the ever-difficult J.P. Arencibia on a nasty front-door curve. He coughed up a single into a hole that probably shouldn’t have existed for Brett Lawrie (given that, you know, Lawrie only ever seems to ground baseballs toward the right side), but got Emilio Bonifacio to bounce out to roughly the same spot, which would’ve gone for a double play but for the Blue Jay left fielder’s considerable speed, but no matter: Johnson would get Reyes, too, on one of those big-hook breaking pitches he seems more willing to deploy of late, enticing the Toronto leadoff man to swing over the top as the ball fell off the proverbial table and into the dirt just beyond home plate. O’s hang on to win, 7-4; take the series two games to one; enter the All-Star break feeling good. (Though, for what it’s worth, given what we’ve seen this weekend, maybe feeling underappreciated suits them better.) See you on the other side, e’erbody.

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