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    No Exit - Skid continues, thanks to nightmare ninth

    Written by Mike Laws

    No exit

    Skid continues, thanks to nightmare ninth

    Tampa Bay 10, Orioles 6



    OK, listen. I get not wanting to shatter Jim Johnson’s confidence. I do. It’s a long season; every team experiences swoons and surges; over a big enough sample size, even momentarily demoralizing back-to-back blown saves are going to look like blips on the radar. At the same time, dude’s a professional athlete — and not one who seems especially fragile, mentally; his comments following his first blown save, on Tuesday, certainly suggest as much. Don’t you want to put yourself in the best position you can to win — every game you can? Wouldn’t J.J. understand it if Buck moseyed on out to the hill and just told him, “Aight, big guy, you don’t have it today,” and turned it over to another of his trusty bullpen arms? Why was it — to quote the Fox announcers — “Johnson’s ballgame now,” with no one warming? Look at it this way: If Pedro Strop had recorded only one out before surrendering a home run and walking the next two hitters he faced, you think there’s a snowball’s chance in hell he gets a long enough leash that he stays in there and gives up a single and a double, and coughs up the lead? Not to impugn the almighty Buck, but is he maybe, just maybe, a little dogmatic about the closer’s role?


    OK, thanks for indulging me. On to the bullet points:


    • So I think it’s pretty obvious that Johnson owes Jair Jurrjens dinner. No, Jurrjens wasn’t lights-out, but he did far more than probably most O’s fans expected, in his first start: tossing five frames, only one of them what you would call in any way bad (the third, when he yielded three runs on three doubles and a homer); he even battled admirably in his final trip to the hill, shrugging off the extra out gifted to the Rays when Nate McLouth couldn’t come up with a sliding grab down the line in left, plating the fourth Tampa run of the ballgame. Still up a pair, at that point, Jurrjens looked perhaps a bit rattled not to have gotten that final out, and wound up walking his next batsman and uncorking a wild pitch that moved runners up to second and third for the always-dangerous Evan Longoria — but eventually rallied, inducing a tame groundout to third to end the threat. And thus did Jurrjens keep himself in line for the win … 


    • With a lot of credit going to the Oriole offense, as per usual, for staking its starter to a lead, watching as that margin dissipated, then supplying some additional cushion. The Birds had jumped all over Rays starter Roberto Hernandez in the first, sending ten hitters to the plate: After McLouth led off with a single to left and Machado bounced into a 6-3 fielder’s choice, Nick Markakis doubled over the head of Rays right fielder Matt Joyce (1-0, O’s); Adam Jones followed with a homer clubbed to left off a fastball low in the zone (3-0); Chris Davis made it a back-to-back affair with a towering shot of his own, this one stroked the opposite way, into the Oriole bullpen in left-center. They’d leave the bases loaded when McLouth, up for a second time in the frame, struck out looking, but after one, things were looking up: 4-0, and Hernandez already on the ropes …


    • And while Hernandez somehow retired the side in order in the second — and watched as his team got itself back into the ballgame, with the three-spot in the third — he wouldn’t last long enough to record an out in his half of that frame, plunking Davis to lead things off and getting lifted by Joe Maddon in favor of Cesar Ramos — who struck Matt Wieters out swinging, but coughed up a perfectly placed double to J.J. Hardy: rolling into the gap in left-center, with just enough on it that it evaded any potential cutoff from left fielder/Oriole-killer du jour Kelly Johnson, and made it all the way to the wall, bringing Davis around from first. 5-3, Birds, now — a lead to which they’d add, in the fourth, by way of singles from McLouth and Markakis and a run-scoring fielder’s-choice groundout from Jones. 6-3, though shortly to be 6-4 (the McLouth non-play in left, etc.).


    • … And that was it, for a long while, and improbably, too, given the rate at which both these teams have been posting runs throughout this series. Left Alex Torres came on in relief of Ramos, delivering four strong frames of mop-up work to hold the lead to those two runs (and, though he couldn’t have predicted it, get the eventual win). Meantime, Tommy Hunter (two and a third) and Brian Matusz (one-third) combined to keep the Rays from cutting into the deficit, yielding absolutely nothing aside from Hunter’s one walk (which, by the way, should’ve been a strikeout; Hunter wouldn’t be the last Oriole hurler to get squeezed badly by home-plate ump Gerry Davis) …


    • Which brings us to Johnson. Who, it should be said, likewise received no help from Davis — but who was also, on a great many of his pitches, nowhere close to the plate. So as to spare my readers the prospect of having to relive this soul-sucking nightmare of an inning, I’ll just run down everything that happened, real quick: Johnson got Luke Scott to ground out, to start things off in the ninth — ironic, given that Scott has done pretty much nothing but walk this whole series, and in fact would walk again in the inning, but here was pretty much the only Ray not to get walked by Johnson. Anyway, Johnson wouldn’t record another out. He’d also fall behind 3-1 to his next three hitters, one of whom (Kelly Johnson) homered to left, with the next two after K. Johnson (Jose Lobaton, Yunel Escobar) drawing the aforementioned free passes. Then Desmond Jennings singled (luckily: a flare just over short), loading the bases. Then Joyce worked the count full before ripping a Johnson offering low and away into right-center: another double, this one scoring two to give the Rays the lead and bouncing Johnson, the save now blown, from the ballgame. Then, facing Darren O’Day, Ben Zobrist doubled to right. 9-6, Tampa, now. Then Longoria doubled to right. Then James Loney walked on four pitches (the last of them intentional). Then Luke Scott walked on four pitches (none of them intentional). 10-6. Then, finally, Kelly Johnson bounced into a double play, 1 to 2 to 3, eliciting a huge and completely understandable mock-cheer from the Camden Yards crowd (or at least, those masochistic enough to have stayed in the park to witness all this crap) …


    • And OK, that took longer than I thought. I guess I did make you relive it. My bad. Sorry.

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