Why Don't They Do It On The Road?
Written by Mike Laws
Why don’t they do it on the road?
Or: Gracious me and mine, a sweep you say?
Orioles 4, Texas 2
How much did I love this sweep-clinching Sunday finale in Arlington, the first time in the 2013 season the Birds have taken each game of a road set (to go along with their mow-down of the Yanks at Camden Yards a few weeks back)?
About as much as I loved the fact that it — this latest win — came by dint of basically the exact same talking points as the first two in Texas. The themes that emerged Friday night and calcified on Saturday remained visibly intact for the Sunday closer. Makes for a satisfying story-arc, methinks (at least for us O’s fans), not to mention this thing practically writes itself.
So, without further ado, the bullet points!
- Firstly, the defense. As if we needed further confirmation that the Oriole version is firing on all cylinders while the Rangers’ wilts under the Lone Star sun, this tilt provided it. Just witness Chris Davis’s second-inning “double”: actually an at’im ball slapped directly toward David Murphy out in left field, except at that hour (given the slightly unusual 6 p.m. local start time) Murphy had the hazy sun roaring across his field of vision, and had to stick his glove up and pray, and missed the liner completely. That led off the inning — the Birds’ second gander at southpaw starter Martin Perez — and, okay, to be fair, there wasn’t much Murphy, typically pretty solid, could’ve done about it. And Matt Wieters followed it up with a solidly hit grounder back up over the rubber and through the middle, plating Davis. 1-0. But then Perez uncorked a wild pitch (which I thought should’ve been ruled a passed ball on A.J. Pierzynski, but hey, I guess it touched the dirt under his mitt, so) and J.J. Hardy tugged a single just beyond the reach of a diving Adrian Beltre at third, on which neither could shortstop Elvis Andrus make a play, ranging far into the hole to his right, but then Andrus should’ve had an easy double-play turn on a subsequent tailor-made grounder from Danny Valencia, but got overexcited or something and tried to make the flip before he’d actually caught the ball. Everyone was safe, the bases now loaded. And now Brian Roberts lashed a single the other way, scoring Wieters. 2-0 …
- But you’d have to say another theme was a tendency for the visitors to leave the bases loaded in innings where they could’ve really broken the game open — and nowhere was that more evident than in the sequence that followed. His back now firmly on the ropes, with no one out in the inning, Perez rallied to fan Nate McLouth and Manny Machado, both of them way out in front on quality changeups, then got Nick Markakis to bounce out to second. Dangit!
- But no matter. For, once again, the Orioles would find themselves the beneficiaries of a quality start, with Chris Tillman outshining even Wei-Yin Chen’s and Miguel Gonzalez’s earlier performances. The big righty had quite literally everything in his arsenal working, tonight: a fastball anywhere from 91 to 95 mph, a changeup he threw consistently for a strike at around 83, that ridiculous 12-6 curve dropped in at a bewildering 75 or so, even the occasional slider. Tillman retired the side in order in the first, whiffing Nelson Cruz on a sailing fastball to end the inning. He set ’em down one-two-three in the second, making Mitch Moreland look downright foolish on one of those big hooks to put a point on the frame. He walked Andrus and surrendered a double to Ian Kinsler, in the third, but between those two events induced two harmless ground balls, and would go on to fan Craig Gentry to strand the two Texans in scoring position. He got the Rangers in order again in the fourth (another strikeout of Cruz, too), and in the fifth …
- … And in the fifth we got to take in another of those recurrent motifs: head-scratching Texas baserunning. As in the third, the Rangers moved two men into scoring position with two out, the result of singles from Andrus and Murphy and an inadvertent sacrifice (read: a swinging bunt that screwed into the dirt just in front of Wieters) from Leonys Martin. That set the stage for Kinsler to tag a Tillman offering into right-center, where Markakis came up firing toward the plate in an apparent effort to cut down the potential second Ranger run — but Davis alertly cut the ball off just to the right of the mound, pivoted and saw Kinsler well around the bag at first, and threw behind him to the covering Roberts, who chased Kinsler toward second base, then saw Murphy now leaning off of third, and threw behind him, and now Machado had Murphy caught in a rundown between third and home, and eventually chased him down the line and flipped to Wieters to put the tag on and end the inning. For those of you scoring at home, that’s 9 to 3 to 4 to 5 to 2. Simple!
- Thankfully, by that point the Orioles had tacked on another pair of runs off Perez. Wieters had doubled inside the bag at third (Machado would’ve had it; Beltre didn’t) with two away in the third, after which Hardy smashed a double over Gentry’s head to deep right-center, good for the third Baltimore run of the evening — soon to be four, after Roberts led off the fourth with a double off the base of the wall down the line in left, got moved over via sac-bunt (McLouth, here) and came on in when Machado slashed a ball back up the middle (and through a drawn-in Ranger infield) on a 1-2 Perez delivery. (The pair of two-out RBIs, by the way, harkened back to the Friday-night game, thus developing another theme. What were they, composing a symphony?)
- Well, if so, it wouldn’t be complete without a little nerve-racking late-inning melodrama. Tillman cruised through the sixth, seventh and eighth, coughing up a double to Gentry and eventually also walking him, but that represented the only runner(s) to reach through those late innings. And what was this — an Oriole starter actually returning to the hill for the ninth? Stop the presses! It was likely just to face the one batter, with Tillman’s pitch count at 113 and the left-handed Pierzynski on deck — but still. Good to see! Maybe Nolan Ryan’s non-coddling ethos was rubbing off on Buck. Then again, given what happened next, we’re probably unlikely to see this ever again. Beltre homered on a 1-2 fastball, smoking a liner well over the wall in right-center (Adam Jones didn’t even give it the usual pro forma chase, just turned and watched it go), and Tillman’s night was through, with it now 4-2, Orioles …
- And so it was down to the bullpen (though not, for once, the overworked Jim Johnson). Brian Matusz came out gangbusters against Pierzynski, fanning the catcher on four straight fastballs, the last of them a perfectly placed low-and-away runner A.J. could only wave at. One out. But then Matusz appeared to lose the plot completely against the pinch-hitting Jurickson Profar, walking him on four straight pitches (though, to be fair, the 3-0 pitch didn’t miss by much). But okay, exit Matusz, in with Darren O’Day. Could he get it done? He could. The side-armer got Andrus to bounce into a fielder’s choice to third on one offering, with it being unfortunately too weakly hit for Machado to have any chance at a game-ending double play. So O’Day went to work on Murphy — who you had to figure must’ve been motivated to turn himself from goat back into hero — getting out ahead of the Texas left fielder 1-2 before missing outside twice, and then Murphy hacked a payoff pitch foul and stood in for another, and could only offer a very late meek swing at it, and the O’s, again, had escaped with a W. Series over, sweep complete, on to the next one. 4-2, is your final.
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