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    Human after All - Twins 6, Orioles 5 4/7

    Written by Mike Laws





    Human after all

    Davis’s costly error proves O’s undoing

    Twins 6, Orioles 5

    You hear it a lot, but baseball really is a game of inches. It’ll remind you of this on a near-nightly basis. Taking Saturday evening’s matchup between the Orioles and Minnesota Twins as an example, there was the inch (or fractional inch) by which a tailing Jim Johnson fastball was adjudged to have missed the corner inside, on Justin Morneau; and so rather than fall into a hole, the Twins slugger found himself enjoying a couple of hitter’s counts, and wound up delivering what would hold up as a game-winning RBI single up the middle.


    And of course, prior to that, there was the inch or two that separated Chris Davis’s first-baseman’s mitt from the infield dirt at Camden Yards, which permitted a pedestrian Aaron Hicks grounder through into the outfield, which extended what should’ve been a quick ninth inning for the Oriole closer, which may have contributed to fatigue on Johnson’s part … and which, in its own way, pointed up the fine margins separating hero from goat, in big-league ball.


    So, sadly, on to the bullet points …


    • That we’ll be talking about Davis’s error until the Sunday-afternoon rubber match rolls around and removes the bad taste from our mouths is kind of ironic, given the fine, even sparkling, team defense that preceded it. Yes, Matt Wieters did mishandle a (crazily spinning) pop foul the inning prior, but here’s an example of a game where the line score fails to tell the whole story. From a Nate McLouth sliding grab to the ball Adam Jones leapt and lunged at and snared over his shoulder on a dead run toward the wall in left-center to Manny Machado’s all-in-one-motion barehanded pick-‘n’-throw at third — and, oh yeah, Wieters himself gunning down a pair of would-be Twinkies base-stealers, including the David Newhan-fast Hicks — the Birds’ defense in this one really was a key talking point. And then it became … a key talking point. But, like … in the bad way. You know what I mean.


    • The disappointing outcome, unfortunately, is also understandably bound to overshadow a pretty incredible MLB premiere for left-handed reliever T.J. McFarland. Having been shunted between farmland locales within the Cleveland system for the previous five years, it’s probably safe to say that here was one Rule 5 guy fairly itching to get his feet wet in the Show — but the nerves sure didn’t show. It’s not even clear he has any nerves, judging by tonight’s display. McFarland’s first six pitches went for strikes. He surrendered only one hit, a single. At one point he’d struck out four consecutive Twins, three of whose names happened to be Mauer, Willingham and Morneau. And he retired the final seven hitters he faced. Consider the stuff with which he accomplished all that — a fastball that tops out at 87 or so, but then with a nice 10-to-4 curveball he seems unafraid to deploy in any count, plus the occasional changeup — and his performance seems even more like the real thing. McFarland’s line, when all was said and done: three and a third, no runs, five strikeouts.


    • ... Of course, the Orioles probably would’ve preferred not to have to call on McFarland at all. That’s because what the southpaw got was mop-up work, the work of the bullpen’s long man; and he got it because O’s starter Chris Tillman, sadly, just didn’t have the “A” stuff tonight. Mystifyingly mercurial in a way we haven’t seen since Daniel Cabrera — like Tillman, a big guy with lots of moving parts — you just never knew what you were going to get: the intimidating downhill pitcher with the impressive, late-moving stuff, or the big kid who can’t repeat his delivery, and falls off the hill. And this was true not only from inning to inning, but also, often, from batter to batter, pitch to pitch. Tillman looked sharp in the first, setting the side down in order and racking up a pair of strikeouts, then rallied himself to limit the damage in the second, after the Twins put men on second and third by way of a single and a double to start the frame but eventually had to settle for a sacrifice fly bookended by a pair of strikeouts and a pair of walks. Which meant Tillman’s pitch count was getting up. Maybe predictably, it all caught up with him in the third, as the Twins struck for an RBI single, another sac-fly and then, from bane-of-the-Orioles’-existence du jour Chris Parmelee, a two-run homer to right. Tillman wouldn’t make it out of the fourth, necessitating the call to the bullpen and McFarland …


    • … whose stellar work allowed the Birds to chip away at the deficit. Davis got the work started in the Oriole third, dinking a broken-bat job into center to plate Machado. Then Jones — who’d started the scoring back in the first with a swinging bunt against Twins starter Vance Worley (it wound up scoring a pair, thanks to Worley’s ill-advised attempt to get Jones at first, which he threw away) — turned in another exemplary at-bat in the fifth, falling behind 0-2 before working the count even, then shortening his stroke to flick a tough breaking pitch up the middle and into center. And all of a sudden the game was tied …


    • … but here, really, is where the game was probably lost. Or at least not-won (if you will). Jones had come up with the bases loaded and nobody out. His two-run single marked the fourth consecutive hit against an on-the-ropes Worley — whom the next three Oriole batsmen nonetheless forced to throw only nine more pitches, completely averting further damage. Davis flied out on a 2-0 pitch. Wieters watched a ball and a strike before popping out to third. J.J. Hardy went up 2-0, took a pitch, then grounded out to second. Not a productive out made. Nary a runner moved over. The Orioles mustered only one more hit and one (semi-intentional) walk the rest of the way, never getting close to another chance on the order of that fifth inning.


    SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK: First off, Nick Markakis had a heck of a game, finishing up 4 for 5 with a pair of doubles, and Machado (2 for 4 plus a walk) scored three times … but what I really want to address — optimistically! — is the bullpen. In addition to McFarland, Darren O’Day enjoyed something of a return to form in this one, working around the error by Wieters and a hit batsman to retire the Twins without further incident. And ironically Johnson, a victim of hard luck, had looked far better than he did in the two games he saved against Tampa: everything with nice movement and sink, everything inducing either swings and misses or balls pounded into the ground. On paper the bullpen takes this loss; in actual point of fact it had its best game of the young 2013 season.

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