A Joyous Occasion
Written by Mike Laws
A joyous occasion
Gonzalez pilots O’s to series win over Boston
Boston 3, Orioles 6
Here’s the happy ending to the story of a turbulent weekend — a Sunday where just about everything proceeded as rightly as the Orioles could’ve hoped.
True, they let some early opportunities slip, but the bats came around. As usual, the defense shone. A day after what you’d have to call a middling effort from Freddy Garcia, Miguel Gonzalez provided the home team its third excellent start of the four-game set with Boston.
And — in some ways, the happiest fact of all — Jon Lester was finally made to wave buh-bye to his perfect record at Camden Yards (a ballpark, it should be noted, conspicuously devoid of red-clad fans, on the day).
How can you top that? On to the bullet points!
- Yeah, I think you have to start with Gonzalez. About whose effort, and about whom in general, you really can’t say enough. Ask yourself: If it were 2010, and you saw a matchup pitting Lester against a starting pitcher the Orioles had skimmed from Mexican winter-league ball, how would you have liked the Birds’ chances? But then — as he’s proven time and again, since he signed with the O’s — Gonzalez isn’t your typical took-a-flyer-on-him kind of pitcher. If he’s not the club’s ace, he’s certainly been its stopper; again on Sunday he played that role with aplomb. After the twin sugar-rush of Thursday and Friday night, the team had fallen Saturday in a way that felt the more disheartening for what it might mean going forward; with a win Sunday, the Sox could render the whole series a wash. Instead Gonzalez conducted the team to the most promising position it’s occupied pretty much all year: approaching the midway mark, a game and a half out of first …
- And he did it in a way that brought to mind (well, to my mind, anyway) that thing the old folks like to say about the steady hand on the tiller. How’s this for quiet consistency? In each of the first and second innings the right-hander needed precisely eleven pitches to retire the Boston side in order; across those two frames he’d induce two fly-ball outs, ground two Red Sox hitters out and strike two out, too. In the third he’d court trouble with a leadoff walk of Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who apparently fouled off too many pitches or has too many letters in his last name for Gonzalez to want to deal with him, and eventually, after a pair of fly-outs, surrendered his first base hit of the ballgame, to Jacoby Ellsbury. Three thoroughly unfazed deliveries and a Jose Iglesias groundball later and he was out of it. Have I used the word unflappable yet today?
- Unflappable, yes; infallible, no. After a nine-pitch fourth and a fifth that again began with a walk but ended with a 6-4-3 double play — and after he pulled another magnificent escape in the sixth (stranding a one-out Ellsbury single/Iglesias reach-on-error) — Gonzalez would cave for a three-run home run the opposite way off the bat of Will Middlebrooks (wasn’t even that bad a pitch, though, actually). Thing was, by that point the Birds had built (hatched?) their starter a nice little nest-egg. (Right, no more bird-puns. On we go.) Having marooned a Manny Machado double in the first and made nothing of a two-on, one-out situation in the second, the offense finally delivered in the third, which Nick Markakis led off with a single but appeared to be fizzling fast after both Machado and J.J. Hardy flied out. But then Adam Jones somehow got his hands pulled inside a Lester fastball cutting in on him, tugging the pitch down the line to left, where it fell in for a double giving the O’s a 1-0 lead. Jones’s clutch delivery also had the effect of keeping the inning alive for Chris Davis, who worked Lester to a 3-1 count before golfing one of the lefty’s low/inner-half fastballs out onto the walkway beyond the out-of-town scoreboard in right. 3-0, now …
- It’d swell to 5-0 in the fifth, which once again Markakis led off with a hit, this time a double into the right-field corner, with Machado following with what I guess you’d rule a single and an advanced-on-throw, except the throw home was cut off and flipped to second in an attempt to get the hustling trail runner, but the flip got misfired into center, and Machado got himself up and untangled with the covering fielder and scooted on in to third. Which wouldn’t wind up mattering, because even though both Hardy and Jones struck out swinging, Davis dunked a double down the line into left: that is, exactly where the Sox weren’t playing him. Which meant that Machado could now trot in leisurely …
- And so, after the Middlebrooks homer bounced Gonzalez from the ballgame, with a nice hand saluting the Oriole starter as he retired to the clubhouse, this one became a matter of the bullpen holding up. No time like the present, I guess, for Brian Matusz to get off the schnide: The southpaw came in and completed the inning Gonzalez had begun; and after the O’s tacked on a sixth run, in their half (Markakis leadoff double — he’d go 4-for-5, on the afternoon — followed by Machado sacrifice/Hardy RBI single), Matusz went on to record the first two outs of the eighth, disregarding a pesky Iglesias infield single, before himself making way for Tommy Hunter, who had about as effective an appearance as any relief pitcher ever, throwing precisely one baseball, which Jonny (“San Quentin”) Gomes floated out to Markakis in right …
- After which came a ninth inning tossed by Jim Johnson that would’ve taken probably less than a minute to complete were it not for the unusually lengthy staring-down he gave Saltalamacchia, who I’d say was refusing to roll over except that he did, ultimately, literally roll over on a grounder to second for the second out of the frame. Weird. Not really sure what was going on there. Anyway, aside from that little episode, Johnson worked just as quickly as ever, just as effectively as you could’ve hoped, inducing a two-pitch comebacker from the first hitter he faced and flying the mighty Middlebrooks out to center on the third offering of the game-ending at-bat. O’s win, 6-3; take the series, three out of four; move on to Detroit for another test. Happy days, in ol’ Bawlmer …
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