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  • Jun

    Bringing the Magic Back Home. Orioles Win 3-to-2

    Written by Mike Laws

    Bringing the magic back home

    Gonzalez sparkling through eight as O’s mount late comeback

    L.A. Angels 2, Orioles 3


    Forget the splitter. Forget the fact we got him for a song, found him where apparently no one else could. Forget, even, the outsize compete level chambered within that diminutive frame. Here’s my personal favorite thing about Miguel Gonzalez:


    Bear with me; might take a minute to explain. See, I’ve gotten into the habit of TiVoing every O’s contest, so’s I can go back through later (while authoring these very recaps) and reacquaint myself with the “big” moments, the game-altering nodes throughout. This involves a lot of fast-forwarding, obviously, with the 1.5x speed producing some funny effects: fly balls that vector along weird parabolic loops where they come down cartoonishly faster than they went up; guys in the dugout chomping on Dubble Bubble at a feverish, chipmunkesque rate; conferences on the mound where you can almost sort of mentally superimpose the helium-high voices jabbering back and forth at one another. But last night I discovered something jarring, at this advanced clip; it was like something out of that show “FlashForward,” kinda; I found that Gonzalez, in the midst of this sea of frantic movement, basically still operates at normal speed. He’s not blinking at twice the normal rate. He doesn’t writhe his mouth around a wad of chaw. Not even his breathing appears elevated — there’s none of that double-time lift-and-drop of the shoulders/chest, like there is with seemingly everyone else on the field. All there is is an intent looking-in, getting the sign, rocking back and hurling (at which point, of course, the righty springs into the same quickened realm as everybody else). Try it sometime, with one of his starts. It’s uncanny.


    It’s also another way of saying that, in addition to all those other qualities that have enabled Gonzalez to win ballgames at this level — the splitter, the mixing speeds, the pinpoint target-popping accuracy — the guy is, to a very real degree, slowing the game down. Not in the über-obnoxious El Duque way, mind you — jut in the way that permits Gonzalez to remain unfazed, poised and collected, even in the face of potential trouble.


    To put it even more simply, applying the message-board sobriquet: Dude is an ice-cold killer.


    And with that, on to the bullet points:


    • I probably don’t need to blather at too much additional length about the quality of Gonzalez’s start. The guy was simply on point, needing a pleasingly few ninety-six pitches to breeze through his eight frames, striking out five (mostly by way of sneaked-in fastballs) while producing two groundball outs for every pop or fly. That, and he actually got better as the game went along. Indeed, through two, this reporter was maybe a touch more concerned than he needed be — seemed Gonzalez, though he had to face only a bare-minimum six Angel hitters over that span, was nonetheless getting hit fairly hard. Manny Machado was called upon to make a nice diving pop-‘n’-throw play, to retire Mike Trout to lead off the game. Josh Hamilton torched a ball to deep right-center, where Adam Jones ran it down and reeled it in. Chris Davis flagged down a smashed liner from Erick Aybar, coolly stepping on the bag to double up Howie Kendrick (who’d singled), retiring the side in the second. The defense was nice to see — and would continue to be a theme throughout — but still, it looked as though maybe Gonzalez didn’t have his very best stuff working … 


    • But, like I was saying, he only got better as the ballgame progressed. Another twin-killing, this time started by Machado, capped Gonzalez’s third inning of work, meaning he’d still faced the minimum nine opposing batsmen, by that point. Trout did homer deep to straightaway center to lead off the fourth, but it was like having that happen only doubled Gonzalez down in his effort. He retired the next three hitters on nine pitches; allowed a leadoff single but nothing else, in the fifth (fanning Chris Iannetta to retire the side); and through the sixth, seventh and eighth again faced the minimum nine Angels (even starting a double play of his own on a tapper to the left side of the mound, to end the seventh) …


    • … after which, in their half of that particular inning, the Birds would finally stake their starter to a lead. Having been stymied all game by a Jason Vargas who, stat for stat, matched his counterpart (to an almost eerie degree, in fact), the O’s in the sixth had clawed back to tie the game on a leadoff single from Ryan Flaherty, a Nick Markakis hustle-double on a ball swatted between right and center, and a run-scoring Machado groundout. But where they’d done all that with no one out, in the seventh they’d add to the tally all with two away — and utilizing not one, not two, but three consecutive infield singles. After a pair of groundouts (Davis, Matt Wieters) put the Birds behind the proverbial 8-ball, it was the bottom half that came through in flying colors. Danny Valencia bounced up the middle far enough to Aybar’s left to pull the shortstop into shallow center, from which he couldn’t get enough on a spinning relay to put the hitter out. Steve Pearce bat-ended a weak roller into the Bermuda Triangle between pitcher, first and second. Flaherty capped an extended at-bat in which he fouled off a handful of pitches (and took at least one verrrrrry close Vargas offering that had a bemused Mike Scioscia asking a few questions of home-plate ump Sam Holbrook) by also topping a little dribbler over the mound and barely even onto the right-side infield dirt, on which Kendrick couldn’t charge in time to make a play …


    • Which is when Scioscia opted to call on the bullpen, in the person of southpaw Scott Downs, for the matchup against Markakis. Now, it should be said here that in addition to the double of an inning prior, the Oriole leadoff man had played a simply stellar game defensively — and for the second straight night, having turned in that sparkling diving catch on a rain-soaked Camden Yards right field on Monday — with tonight’s highlight reel including a pair of terrific running catches that took him into foul ground: one in which he crashed into that rising wall down the right-field line, another where he had to range into that weird cranny with the garage door-type deal all the way in the corner. And, as MASN pointed out for us early on in the affair, the glovework alone has sustained Nick over the past seven games or so; after heating up something fierce to end the month of May, June had thus far been decidedly unkind to the longest-tenured active Oriole, at least at the dish. But Markakis would come through again in this one, jumping all over Downs’s second-pitch fastball, sending it out into right-center to land at the feet of Peter Bourjos (who, though he’d robbed J.J. Hardy of a homer way back in the first, couldn’t circle under this dying liner). Good for two runs, Markakis’s clutch single would provide the difference …


    • … though we weren’t out of the woods yet. After Gonzalez’s quick eighth, you had to be wondering if the starter would get the nod to try for the complete game. He wouldn’t. Out came Jim Johnson, so good of late following that spate of blown saves — and the closer looked like he’d proceed apace here tonight, inducing a foul pop from Bourjos and a grounder to third from Trout for a quick two outs. But then Hamilton laced a double into the right-field corner off a hung curve, and Albert Pujols knocked him in with a single back through the box. Uh-oh. Were we to have another excellent-start-erasing ninth-inning meltdown? Thankfully, the answer to that is also no. With Brad (“The Forgotten”) Hawpe on to run for Pujols, Johnson needed just four more offerings, all of them strikes, two of them fouled, his final pitch a two-seamer tailing back over the outside corner, and stared at by a frozen Mark Trumbo, to end the game. Pitching, defense and just enough timely offense: good to see. 3-2 is your final; O’s go for the sweep at noon.



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