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  • Apr
    26

    Atonement

    Written by Mike Laws

    Defense deserts Birds early, but bats come through in kind Orioles 10, Oakland 2

     

     

    Aaaaaaaaahhhhh. Hear that? No, friends, I’m not popping the tab on a fresh Natty Boh down Pickle way, or sinking into a plush couch with a good book and a Sigur Rós album piped in through the earbuds, or drawing up a bubble bath complete with rose petals (though that’s not a bad-looking scene, ladies, amiright?). No, that’s the sound of complete contentment entering the late innings of an O’s game. Because — finally! — the Birds delivered a laugher. Yes, aaaaaah indeed …

     

    So, then — gently, peacefully, lovingly — on to the bullet points …

     

    • Things didn’t start so rosy. Following a first inning in which both hurlers — Oakland wunderkind Jarrod Parker, tip of the Baltimore spear Jason Hammel — employed the double-play ball to eliminate speedy leadoff men, the situation unraveled in a hurry for the suddenly-defensively-hapless O’s. First, with one away, Brandon Moss bounced sharply to second — or, I guess, short, where the normally sure-handed J.J. Hardy, swung over to the right side as part of a shifted alignment, had the ball eat him up, ricocheting off a leg into a no-man’s-land from which he couldn’t recover to record the out. E-6, Moss aboard. A groundout moved Moss to second, after which Hammel walked the imposing Josh Reddick on four pitches, preferring to contend with Josh No. 2 (that’d be Donaldson). Problem was, forced to work within the constrictive contours of “Balkin’ ” Bob Davidson’s quote-unquote strike zone, Hammel fell behind Donaldson 3-0 before the latter sent a rope over Adam Jones’s head. The Oriole center fielder appeared to misjudge the ball — a tough one, to be sure, given that it was smashed directly in line with him — and started in before having to turn and beeline back toward the wall. Still, Jones got to the ball, and got his glove up; he just couldn’t reel it in, and it ticked off the heel of the ol’ trapper and fell into the outfield grass. A bitter reminder of a certain misplay in New York (except this time, inexplicably, it wasn’t ruled an error), by the time Jones scampered over and collected the baseball, the A’s were staked to an early 2-0 lead. Stranger still, though less costly, was the subsequent air-mailed throw from Manny Machado, providing Oakland yet another out to work with. (And this after Machado had recorded the inning’s second out with a sparkling play diving to his right.) Who knows? Maybe the graphic MASN showed just prior to the inning, the one about team defense and consecutive innings without an error, jinxed the Birds. Maybe the Blue Jays rubbed off on ’em. Whatever the case, Hammel was, fortunately, able to escape the nightmare frame without further damage, grounding a ’fro-tastic Coco Crisp out to short … 

     

    • But hey, nothing atones for some shoddy work with the leather like some quality work with the lumber. That the Orioles were able to bounce back with the bats was perhaps to be expected; as we’ve seen all year, this is a scrappy bunch. That they picked themselves up, dusted themselves off and busted out for a lead-assuming three-spot immediately, as in in the very next half-inning, was inspiring. But when the Birds basically didn’t stop all night, posting runs like a marathoner on Instagram (OK, not my greatest simile ever) — now that was straight-up righteous. Just to put a gloss on things, here: In the third, following a Nolan Reimold double the other way to right, Nate McLouth singled up the middle, plating the first Baltimore run and cutting the lead in half. With two away McLouth stole second — doing so, as is his penchant, with a good enough jump that the A’s didn’t even attempt a throw — putting himself in position to come around on a Nick Markakis single to right. Tie ballgame. Jones then redeemed himself by way of a double smashed to left, untying this affair. 3-2, O’s …

     

    • Now, here’s where the team has usually appeared content to rest on its laurels. Too often, after mounting a spirited effort to rally from behind, the offense has called it a night, putting the onus on the starter and/or bullpen to preserve the newly fashioned lead. And while a quiet Oriole fourth appeared to set us on that kind of course again tonight, it would prove merely the eye of a brewing Baltimore storm. In the fifth the offense played some small(ish) ball, with Machado bunting McLouth to third following a leadoff double, and Markakis lofting a sac-fly out to left. One hit, one run. 4-2, O’s. Daddy like. But, as it turned out, manufacturing runs wouldn’t be necessary. Chris Davis led off the sixth with an opposite-field liner that, well, never came back. 5-2, O’s. Matt Wieters followed by smashing Parker’s next pitch down the line to right. What probably could’ve been a double but for Wieters’s, shall we say, lack of pace on the basepaths was effectively turned into a double when Parker uncorked a wild pitch; the Oriole backstop then advanced another bag on a Hardy groundout. Ryan Flaherty’s hard-work walk bounced Parker from the ballgame; his replacement, Chris Resop (“Resop Choi,” I can’t help but refer to him, mentally), watched helplessly as Flaherty swiped second. Then Resop, too, walked Reimold, his first batter. And when Resop appeared to have gotten the desired result against the O’s current toughest out, McLouth, bouncing him to a drawn-in second base, the speedy Oriole leadoff man absolutely busted down the line, arriving at first before the relay, good for another Baltimore run. 6-2, O’s …

     

    • And they weren’t done yet. With Hammel entering the sixth having faced the bare-minimum three Oakland batsmen in each of his previous three innings of work, then having to power through a one-out first-and-third situation to preserve the four-run cushion, the Orioles rallied yet again to offer their starter some good old-fashioned run support. Singles from Markakis and Jones and a free pass issued to Davis preceded a Wieters sac-fly and a Hardy RBI single in the Oriole seventh. 8-2, O’s. The team turned the trick again in its next turn at the dish. Following Troy Patton’s tightrope act in the bottom half — escaping an uneasy first-and-second-and-no-one-out quagmire — Machado singled to left, Jones singled to, uh, second base, Davis plated Machado with (you guessed it) a single and Wieters (Wieters!) reached on another infield single, which Moss promptly threw away, permitting Jones to score. Whew. 10-2. By now the Birds had scored in five of the last six innings, hanging crooked numbers in all but one of those frames. By the time T.J. McFarland took over in the ninth, at approximately 1:30 a.m., Baltimore time, this one was pretty well in the bag.

     

     

    HERE HE COMES, TO SAVE THE DAY: McLouth’s line of 2-for-5 on the night doesn’t begin to do the plucky leadoff man justice. Not that it’s necessarily bad to see two hits in five trips, in a box score, but those figures make McLouth look only fair-to-middlin’, when his performance over the past few days has been truly exceptional. Remove his final two plate appearances from the equation — when the Birds were already up 8-2 and 10-2, respectively — and you’ve got, in order, a four-pitch walk; an RBI single/stolen base/run scored; a double swatted while in an 0-2 hole, again followed by a run scored; and that RBI fielder’s-choice groundout, on which a lesser man might’ve chucked his bat and/or helmet in disgust following a tailor-made GIDP, but on which McLouth hurtled himself down the line like Ichiro circa 2003, simply refusing to get doubled up. Put another way, he’s a terror for opposing teams to deal with right now. Which, of course, is an invaluable quality for a leadoff hitter to possess.

     

    SWEET THREADS, DUDE: I have to cop to having just a little bit of a soft spot for the A’s, probably because Oakland’s sort of a Baltimore West: a “second city” languishing in the shadow of a hoity-toity nearby neighbor, not to mention the baseball team, like our beloved Birds, came out of nowhere last year to earn a surprise playoff berth, with a lot of the credit (as with the O’s) going the way of a well-traveled, well-respected skipper. Also I guess you can throw in the fact that the A’s and O’s were the class of the AL, in their Seventies heyday. And so of course I’m gonna dig it when Oakland, just like with the O’s and their glorious return to the Cartoon Bird and sharp secondary-color Saturday jerseys, repurpose the retro yellow into something more than batting-practice attire. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not rooting for them, or anything like that, but you’ve gotta admit that Coco Crisp, rocking the yellow, puffs of hair tufting out from under the batting helmet, is a pretty cool sight to behold, if you’re an avowed and unapologetic baseball nostalgic.

     

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