A Pleasant Surprise Orioles win 2-to-0
Written by Mike Laws
A pleasant surprise
Garcia masterful in pitchers’ duel
Washington 0, Orioles 2
Wait a minute — what? Tonight was supposed to be the grand finale in the fireworks display that was this series (er, sorry, two separate two-game series) with the Nats. After all, last night’s marquee pitching matchup produced eight long balls. The night before, which had pitted phenom versus phenom, gave us six dingers. Adam LaRoche, Ryan Zimmerman and Chris Davis had all enjoyed multiple-homer games, with Zimmerman belting three in a single contest, and Davis joined by freakin’ Roger Bernadina in posting back-to-back games in which they socked a big fly. ROGER BERNADINA. I mean, seriously.
So there we were, all buckled up (no pun intended — no, really) and ready for an absolute slugfest to cap this Battle of the Beltways (and yes, ESPN, that should be plural). I, for one, was ready to ride this thing all the way to midnight or so, given the hurlers on the hill — both of them veteran righties who’ve lost a few miles per hour off the ol’ fastball, and who have thus had to reinvent themselves, to an extent, as crafty spin doctors — I even figured midnight might be a conservative estimate, considering Dan Haren’s propensity to cough up base hits by the boatload, not to mention the glacial pace at which Freddy Garcia works with runners aboard (of which, of course, there has been no paucity, up to this point in his season).
But man, oh man, did these guys prove me (or us, or everybody) wrong.
On to the bullet points!
- First, Freddy. You kinda knew this was gonna be a good outing when, in the second, having gone in order in the first, the Nats scratched out a pair of frankly-really-effin’-lucky singles to start the inning — LaRoche on a cheap flare into left-center, followed by Ian Desmond with an attempted sacrifice that wound up in a sort of Bermuda Triangle between Garcia, Matt Wieters and Manny Machado — which meant the Oriole starter now stared down a first-and-second, nobody-out threat. He then made basically too good a 2-2 pitch to Tyler Moore, who grounded to second too weakly to give Ryan Flaherty any other play than at first. Now with men on second and third and one away, Garcia induced a meek fly to left off the bat of Chad Tracy — too shallow, just, for LaRoche to tag — then got Kurt Suzuki to pop to even shorter left. Phew. Nary a baseball hit even close to what you’d call hard; Garcia deserved to get out of that one.
- Meanwhile, Haren’s night began with what appeared — and not only, I’d go so far to say, to those of us rocking the orange — to be a series of balls hit on the nose but right at Washington defenders. That was certainly the case in the first, when Nate McLouth doubled to lead things off, got bunted over nicely by Machado, then found himself stuck permanently at third as Nick Markakis and Adam Jones spanked line drives directly at the Nats’ second baseman and left fielder, respectively. And even in the third, when the Birds did push a run across, you had the feeling the damage could’ve been far greater: After Flaherty stroked a leadoff single and Machado, with two men out, dropped a knock of his own into left, Markakis ripped a 1-0 inside fastball inside the right-field line, good for an RBI double — but just the one, with Machado given the stop sign while rounding third. Don’t wanna take the bat out of Jones’s hands, right? Well, sadly, not in this case. The star center fielder swung through a 2-2 Haren fastball, up and away, to end the frame. The O’s would have to settle for a 1-0 lead …
- Which is how this one would stay for a very, very long time — and, thankfully, was enough for Garcia. Who was absolutely in every way just out of sight, tonight: Following those two quote-unquote hits, in the second, the 38-year-old journeyman would go on to retire his next fourteen hitters, the only other single he’d concede — and one of maybe two hard-hit balls on the night — coming from (you guessed it) Bernadina, in the sixth, already with two away. But no biggie — Markakis fielded the rocket expertly off the out-of-town scoreboard, firing a strike in to second lest Bernadina even think about taking two, there. (Not the only nice play from Markakis in this one, by the way: Earlier, he’d taken a double or triple or maybe, because he dived, even an inside-the-parker away from Denard Span, laying out to his right to flag the fleet Washington leadoff man’s dying liner.) Anyway, Garcia sure seemed to appreciate the effort, retiring his next seven batsmen in order as well. That meant the Venezuelan had now gone eight strong, yielding just the three hits while fanning six* and walking … no one. (* See endnote.)
- And, though it turned out they wouldn’t need it, the Orioles did eventually get through for an insurance marker against Haren, who’d actually settled in even further; after striking Steve Pearce out (for the third time in the ballgame) to lead off the eighth, the Washington starter had retired thirteen of his previous fifteen Oriole hitters. Thing was, one of those he didn’t set down, over that span, was Nate McLouth; and in the eighth, too, it was the Oriole left fielder who’d get aboard, flicking a little flare into right and, the play in front of him as Nats second-bagger Danny Espinosa had trouble chasing down the topspin-charged roller, charging into second just ahead of Espinosa’s relay. The ol’ hustle double. Nicely done. The effort would add up to an easy conversion when Machado followed with a double of his own, this one a more conventional rope just inside the bag at third, past a diving Zimmerman and on into the left-field corner …
- … staking the O’s to a 2-0 lead they’d take into the ninth inning: Jim Johnson time. With respect to whose performance we can all exhale. For a second straight night, Johnson was totally fine, providing only a brief moment of hand-wringing/hair-pulling/teeth-gritting/etc. when he fell to full against Span, leading things off, before grounding the Washington center fielder out harmlessly to second. From there Johnson cruised, fanning the mighty Bernadina and requiring only two more pitches to get Zimmerman to chop out to Machado. And just like that, in something like two and a quarter hours, the O’s had polished this one off.
IF THAT WAS ‘JUNK’ HE WAS THROWING, IT MUST’VE BEEN CHINA WHITE: Seems like just about everyone Garcia struck out, by the way, went down hacking at what I was just reading is the splitter as originally devised, back in the dead-ball era — the OG forkball, in other words, which wasn’t thrown hard, as most of its latter-day exponents would have it, but was more like something of a split-finger knuckleball. Or maybe you could call it a split-knuckle-change. (Or a “foshball,” if you dig Mike Boddicker’s style or are just more into the whole brevity thing.) In any event, Garcia’s version was spinning ever so slightly — wobbling, almost — and tumbling dramatically, though unpredictably, giving Washington hitters fits all night long. And clearly it’s Garcia’s favorite weapon (witness his default grip) in an arsenal that also includes, as far as I can tell, an 87-88 mph fastball (which he was actually using more like a changeup, in a pitching-backwards kind of way), a few different speeds of curveball, and a straight change. All of which he was deploying in any count he pleased, usually for strikes; Garcia jumped ahead 0-1 on twenty-one of the twenty-seven he faced. No, he doesn’t have the velocity he used to, but when he’s “on” like this, it ain’t gonna matter. This was downright filth. I realize I’m kind of rambling at this point, but man, was this ever a feast for those of us who love good pitching.
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