Written by Mike Laws
Hit ’em up
(And then hold on)
Orioles 7, Texas 4
In keeping with my admittedly half-assed policy of not impugning the way the bullpen’s managed in games the Baltimore Orioles hang on to win, let me state up front for the record that what you’ll find several paragraphs below is me putting as happy a spin as I can on certain relief performances. (You know the ones.) If this sounds to you like a fancy way of copping to a willful omission of anything that might cast a pall over the victory parade — just know that you’re right, and be satisfied with that. That’s all you’re getting, party-pooper.
So, then, on to the sweet stuff.
First, the offense. Of which there was boatloads. Gaggles. Metric tons. Et cetera. Apparently less than content with the way they’d handled Texas starter Ross Wolf in their last look at him, a little over a week ago, the Birds came out of the chute or stormed out of the gates or however you want to say it — I prefer “kill-crazy massacre” — torching the ex-Oriole farmhand to the tune of seven earned runs on nine hits (and two walks) over just two-plus innings. Yowza.
How’d they do it? Quick, let me count the ways: To start with you had Nate McLouth singling on the very first pitch of the ballgame (not to give away any of Mighty Mouse’s secrets, here, but seems like he’s doing that kind of a lot), after which Nate the Skate (so many nicknames!) swiped second (been awhile since he’s done that, on the other hand). Manny Machado grounded out, but Nick Markakis walked on four pitches, then Adam Jones singled to left, plating McLouth with the game’s first run. Chris Davis then also singled to left, scoring Markakis. No fuss, no muss: 2-0, O’s.
They’d add a third run in the second, courtesy of a one-out McLouth triple (which probably could’ve been caught, but Nelson Cruz ain’t no Markakis out in right, and the ball eluded his mitt and careened down off the top of the wall, forcing the Biogenetic Man — am I being unfair? — to chase it down while Nasty Nate cruised into third standing) and then Machado punched an RBI single through the right side to cap a tough AB. Markakis grounded into an inning-ending double play, but the offense wasn’t done yet, not by a damn sight …
Because, leading off the third, Jones simply hammered the first delivery he saw from Wolf, launching an absolute missile all the way onto the batter’s eye/grassy knoll (oops, we’re near Dallas — too soon?), where I daresay the fan who’d hopped the railing and snagged the homer outshone pretty much the whole Ranger outfield thus far in the series — witness Davis’s subsequent double, one of Crush’s long fly balls that simply refuse to come back down to Earth, which center fielder Leonys Martin tracked back to the wall and half-leapt for, and should’ve had, but simply missed. Maybe a bit of hard luck for Wolf there, but then again he did walk the next hitter, Matt Wieters (whose eventual 3-for-4 offers a refreshing side note). Wolf then got up on J.J. Hardy nothing-and-two before the Oriole shortstop stroked a single back through the box. And with that, Wolf’s night was finished.
… Well, except not in terms of official scoring. The bases were now loaded, see, meaning Wolf was on the hook for whatever lefty reliever Joe Ortiz did or didn’t do with those three inherited runners — and the first thing he did was surrender a single tugged through the 3/4 hole by Oriole newcomer (and most recent in these past couple years’ parade of Cuban expats) Henry Urrutia. The newcomer’s worm-burner through the infield made it 5-0 and kept the sacks juiced for Brian Roberts, now batting from the right side, who smacked a 2-1 fastball deep the other way over Cruz’s head in right. Wieters scored. Hardy came around from second. Urrutia hoofed it over to third — but might’ve had trouble judging whether Cruz was gonna be able to get to the ball on the fly, at least judging from how Roberts wound up getting hung up between first and second (on what should’ve been an easy double), eventually getting thrown out 9 to 3 to 6 (or, um, I think). Still, it was now 7-0, and when McLouth sliced a liner midway down the line in left it figured on being even more than that — but David Murphy, to his credit, caught and fired a strike to the plate, in time to nab Urrutia, meaning the O’s had run themselves out of an even bigger inning.
Still, a seven-run lead’s enough, right? Even if it is rather early? Well, it better be, because that’s all the Birds were gonna get, tonight, falling rather quietly (save for a decent couple of nothing-doing half-chances) the rest of the way against Ortiz, then Cory Burns, then Robbie Ross, then Tanner Scheppers (who I can never decide whether his name sounds totally redneck or totally trust-fund). Anyhoo, the lead certainly appeared safe in the hands of Oriole starter Miguel Gonzalez, who might’ve looked less than perfect in the first, when McLouth got run around like a packhorse in left (a nice catch ranging all the way back to the wall, a nice effort on a slide where he couldn’t quite corral it, then two-more relatively well-hit fly-outs), and also the second, when Gonzalez gave up what should’ve been three base hits, except Mr. Jones wasn’t having any of that nonsense. In yet another stellar defensive moment from your 2013 Orioles, and quite possibly the first outfield deke I’ve ever seen do much of anything, Jones raced in on a ball Elvis Andrus chipped into shallow center, pulling up all casual-like and holding his glove aloft, fooling A.J. Pierzynski (who’d singled, and is not svelte, nor fleet, being a catcher) into holding at or close to the bag — and then of course Jones fielded the dying quail on a hop and threw in plenty of time to get Pierzynski at second, good for the rare 8-6 fielder’s choice. All of which made Murphy’s subsequent two-out single a whole lot less consequential, especially when Gonzalez fanned Martin to end the threat.
From there Gonzalez looked pretty much like Gonzalez always looks. In the third, now staked to that seven-run cushion, the Baltimore right-hander allowed a one-out single to Jurickson Profar, but nothing else. In the fourth he’d cough up singles to Pierzynski and Andrus, but those two base-knocks bookended a double-play ball off the bat of Mitch Moreland. The fifth saw Gonzalez enjoy his lone one-two-three inning — though he should’ve had another in the sixth, when Roberts lost the handle somewhere in the transfer from glove to throwing hand on a more or less routine ground ball. Miguel shook it off, and got Moreland to tap back to him to retire the side. He is nothing, after all, if not a cool customer.
Even so, he couldn’t quite make it through the seventh, though he did his game best, after surrendering a one-out back-to-back single and double, followed by an Ian Kinsler sac-fly that gave the Rangers their first run of the ballgame. Tommy Hunter came on for the final out of the inning, popping Profar into foul ground left of third …
Would that Hunter’s eighth inning went as smoothly. Let’s just say that if the guy had to pick a time to melt down to the tune of three runs, this was probably the contest in which to do it. Hunter was never pulled, sparing the bullpen additional labor, but things now stood at 7-4 …
Meaning Jim Johnson must be called upon to close out, right? Well, I guess so. The MLB save leader, in pursuit of No. 35 already, on the season, did attack the zone, and never really got hit very hard, but still managed to cough up consecutive two-out singles (Cruz, Adrian Beltre), which brought Pierzynski to the plate with the potential tying run and made all of Birdland a touch let’s call it tachycardic … But in the interest of confining ourselves to the positive let’s go back to the inning’s first couple outs and focus on the defense, which might just have saved the day (or, if you like, saved the save). First, Machado: Think the kid’s got this whole barehand-pickup/sling-and-throw thing down pat by now? The third baseman charged in on what looked an impossible out, on a little topspin swinging bunt down the line from Kinsler, fielding the topper in such a way that he not only caught it cleanly in his throwing hand but actually had that hand in the right grip to make the relay, which he whipped over while practically parallel to the infield grass. The throw pulled Davis to full-stretch to his right and into a split, over at first, but Kinsler was out by a quarter or eighth or sixteenth of a step. Simply unreal. As was Wieters’s effort to charge out from behind the plate and over to the very outer limits of foul ground, reaching basket-style into a camera well and squeezing the ol’ catcher’s mitt just hard enough to hang on waffle-cone style. So that was two down, and, notwithstanding the pair of not-all-that-well-hit singles before it finally happened, the Birds were just a Pierzynski groundout to second away from completing the second win of the series, narrowly hanging on to keep themselves in position for a Sunday sweep. Go get ’em, fellas.
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