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  • Jul
    31

    Out of the hole

    Written by Mike Laws

    Out of the hole

    Timely hitting (finally!) redeems Chen

    Houston 3, Orioles 4

     

    Wei-Yin Chen reminds me of those badass big-screen gangsters. You know the ones I mean. They’re the type who’ll look the trembling little guy pointing the gun at them square in the eye and say, in a dead-flat even tone, “You better get me with the first shot, cuz that’s all you’re gonna get, punk.”

     

    Now, if allowing your opponents a primo opportunity to tag you for a crooked number — even if just for one half-inning — maybe isn’t the greatest game plan for a major-league pitcher, it’s also true that there are worse teams to execute the, ahem, strategy against than the Houston Astros.

     

    But enough dilly-dallying. On to the bullet points:

     

    • So first we’ve gotta say that aside from his third inning of work, which would present no shortage of trouble, Chen was, typically, excellent in the Monday opener against the ’Stros down Camden Yard way. Set aside that frightful frame, for the moment, and what you’re looking at is a starter who worked into the eighth, enjoying abbreviated one-two-three trips to the hill in all but the fifth and seventh, in which the lefty permitted a leadoff single and two-out double, respectively. Not too shabby. Chen also, over that span, fanned eight Houston batsmen, including the final hitter he’d face, following a single surrendered to lead off what would be his final fractional inning. 

     

    • All of which kept his pitch count relatively meager, allowing him to hang in long enough to get himself in line for the W. No easy feat, that, considering Chen’s third inning found him faltering in a decidedly un-Chen-like way. The southpaw got the leadoff batter, Brandon Barnes, to ground out to third on just three total deliveries, but then ran into big-time issues, though most of this came by way of the decidedly meekly hit; Matt Dominguez’s one-out single, which started it all, being the only true wallop of the frame. After that you had a fleet Robbie Grossman attempting to sacrifice, and being rewarded for a well-placed bunt, beating the relay; you had Jonathan Villar pushing a single through the hole into right; and, devastatingly, you had little Jose Altuve, who’s built more like a jockey than a ballplayer, reaching for and poking an off-speed offering just past J.J. Hardy’s range to his right, rolling into left for a two-run single. And still just the one out. Yikes. But Chen wasn’t quite ready to let the visitors add to the damage they’d already done, and managed to fire a fastball past Chris Carter, to cap an extended at-bat. It looked like he was out of the woods. Ah, but watching Chen work from the stretch to all those hitters — which the Oriole starter tends to do in a considerably more deliberate fashion than out of his windup — this let Villar, now on third, and not being held particularly close by Manny Machado, draw a bead on the timing of the Taiwan native. With Chen a strike away from wriggling out of the situation still just the two runs down, Villar waited till he received a new baseball, walked out his lead — and took off. A surprised Chen flicked the ball back in toward Matt Wieters, who never came up out of his crouch behind the dish, not that it mattered anyway; the ball skidded lazily wide of the plate, and Villar was safe on a straight steal of home. Just in case you thought that only happened in “The Sandlot” …

     

    • While meanwhile, Astro starter Lucas Harrell had been tossing a gem. And here we were all thinking Bud Norris’s mysterious scratch was gonna hand the O’s this game on a silver platter! Harrell, apparently, had other ideas. Through three he’d allowed precisely one baserunner, that being a walk issued to Wieters. In the fourth he walked Machado to lead things off, but got Nick Markakis to pop and Adam Jones to ground out, with it being a good thing for the Orioles that Machado’d gotten a running start on the ball Jones directed at shortstop Villar for what might otherwise have been an easy double play. Harrell then walked Chris Davis on four pitches. Again he walked Wieters. And then, finally, though Hardy was down in a 1-2 hole, the Orioles managed to come through with a touch of the ol’ clutchness, the Oriole shortstop pounding a single up the middle and just out of Altuve’s reach, good for a pair of Oriole runs …

     

    • And though Harrell would bounce back with an uber-quick one-two-three fifth (eight pitches), he wouldn’t make it through the following inning. Which started with Markakis walking, followed by Jones running into some hard luck on a fine diving play on a liner to Villar’s right. But now up strode Davis. Let’s put this non-homer-hitting streak to rest, eh? Davis found himself again in a 3-0 count, was greenlighted, swung through a grooved fastball on just a titanic cut, and then, on 3-1, smacked one of those trademark flyball dingers to left. Didn’t make it into the seats by much, but something tells me he’ll take it. The O’s were now up, 4-3.

     

    • That’s right where it’d stay, with Chen continuing on well past the century mark (he’d throw a season-high hundred and nineteen baseballs, on the evening, seventy-eight of them for strikes), after which the starter was spelled by a typically efficacious Darren O’Day (two-thirds, a strikeout, a flyout, nothin’ doin’) and, in the ninth, Jim Johnson. Who avoided any of the stress-tests we’ve come to expect of late, summarily flying Carlos Corporan out to right (two pitches) and grounding pinch hitter Marc Krauss out to second (two more pitches), before falling full against Dominguez, who in the end could only tap a one-hopper back to the Baltimore closer. A flip to first and this one was in the books. Maybe not the way you’d want to do it, ideally, and yes it is Houston we’re talking about, but whatever. If this gets the boys off the schnide, I ain’t gonna complain. 


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