Game of Swings
Written by Mike Laws
Game of swings
In capricious series opener, Jays walk off with win
Orioles 6, Toronto 7
The way I see it, Jose Reyes can’t get back to the Blue Jays fast enough.
Might be a weird thing to wish, I realize, what with the likes of the other (healthy) mashers Toronto boasts: Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Adam Lind. The lone Canadian club’s already sizzling-hot; wouldn’t want an AL East rival adding yet another impact player down the stretch.
But the damage couldn’t be any worse than what Munenori Kawasaki has visited upon the Orioles through this first half of the 2013 season. Reyes’s (putative) replacement can now add his name to the list of Japanese MLBers to have tortured the poor Birds (which, just to name a couple, includes Hideo (“No-No”) Nomo and, of course, Ichiro). Kawasaki entered play Friday night with a career total of zero home runs; he now has one, and a big one at that, a shot to right off Tommy Hunter that tied the game late. The spindly rubber-band-man of a shortstop, who’d delivered the walkoff hit the last time the O’s were in town — when Jim Johnson last blew a save — now counts 17 runs driven in in his young big-league career, fully eight of them against the Orioles.
You can probably tell this won’t end well. On to the points …
- For a while — like, until the sixth — it looked as though Oriole starter Jason Hammel would have to swallow a hard-luck loss. Despite looking probably about as sharp as he has all season, snapping off sliders more tightly spun than we’ve seen since 2012 and over one stretch retiring ten straight Jays hitters, Hammel returned to the visitors’ dugout at the end of five with his team trailing 3-1, the result of a first-inning bloop double from Encarnacion that kept the inning alive for a Lind home run (on what wasn’t even that badly hung a breaking ball) and then, in that fifth, a two-out RBI single over second base from (you guessed it) Kawasaki. Never mind that Hammel’s second, third and fourth innings of work all went by in a flash; never mind that he’d struck out the side, all swinging, in the second. The stars appeared aligned for what you’d have to call an ironic result: The man who’s enjoyed a metric ton of run support without really pitching all that well was now in line for a low-scoring loss, despite finally for once having the good stuff going.
- Because Blue Jay ace R.A. Dickey sure looked like he, too, had discovered his A-game. Through five the knuckleballer had surrendered just three hits, one of them an infield single, one a one-out Manny Machado knock into center that wouldn’t end up mattering, the other a solo home run smoked by J.J. Hardy off the big back-wall beyond the fence down the line in left. Still, that looked like the aberration: Rebounding from the long ball, Dickey tore through the Oriole half of the third on a tidy ten pitches, needed just eight deliveries to retire the side in the fourth, and cruised through the fifth on eleven offerings …
- But then, as they are wont to do, the Oriole bats woke up in a way where if I were an older man I’d add the antiquated “and how!” to the end of this sentence: and how! There. Having just watched as the Jays/Kawasaki tacked on the insurance run to make it 3-1, Nate McLouth led the sixth off with a single over short. Machado flied out, but Nick Markakis drew a (rare, for Dickey) free pass. First and second, one down, and now here’s Adam Jones getting in on the fun, ripping a single into left, plating McLouth. 3-2. Which brings to bat Chris Davis, who doesn’t even want to bother looking at any more of them fluttery dancing knucklers, and promptly spanks one out the other way, into the stands in left, a three-run job that makes it 5-3, O’s. Hey, a lead!
- Nicely done, but it wouldn’t hold up for long. Encarnacion halved the sudden Toronto deficit with a monster shot of his own (following, it should be noted, an epic battle of a ten-pitch AB that featured five straight fouled off, before the big swat). 5-4. Hammel would finish out the frame, but it was to be his last …
- Even so, by the time Hunter came on, in the bottom of the seventh, the O’s would again hold a two-run lead, this time courtesy of yet another dinger — from Ryan Flaherty! But don’t celebrate too hard just yet; the Oriole second baseman’s homer only foreshadowed the long ball from the other light-hitting infielder who’d deliver a big one, as the Canadian night wore on. For Hunter, though he recorded a pair of quick outs following a leadoff single from Maicer Izturis, was then forced to watch in horror as Kawasaki turned on a hanging slider, muscling it out of Rogers Centre to right, good for his first major-league home run and third RBI of the evening. Ugh. 6-6.
- And that kind of momentum was something the Orioles just couldn’t overcome. The offense went quietly in the eighth and ninth (against, respectively, Bawlmer boy Brett Cecil and closer Casey Janssen), setting the stage for a dramatic finish: Izturis again led off with a single, this time off Brian Matusz, to start the ninth, after which he was bunted over into scoring position for the pinch-hitting Mark DeRosa, whom the Orioles opted to walk intentionally. That brought Kawasaki to the dish, the crowd chanting his name — but Kawasaki, clearly feeling it and thus maybe pressing a little too hard (witness his initial offering at a Matusz fastball, on which he tied himself into a pretzel and wound up falling over sideways), could only bounce meekly to second, though meekly enough to avoid the double play, with Flaherty lunging at the passing DeRosa, and missing, and having to make the only play available, at first. That brought Rajai Davis to the plate — and Pedro Strop out of the bullpen. Uh-oh. And of course Pedro misses with a slider inside and fires in a strike that gets fouled off and then, on only his third delivery of the night, grooves a meatball that Davis, who’d entered as a pinch runner back in the seventh, wallops over Hardy’s head and into left, good for the game-winning RBI. The seesaw settles; the Jays win; 7-6, bad guys, is your final.
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