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  • Jun

    All For Naught

    Written by Mike Laws

    All for naught

    Johnson blows another save, erases late comeback

    Cleveland 4, Orioles 3


    Just as with Tuesday’s, Wednesday evening’s close-run tilt with the Indians at Camden Yards provided something of a storybook arc: Home team goes down early, following Cleveland home run; looks punchless at the plate most of the game, but gets continuing strong effort from starter; comes back with clutch at-bats to assume lead in late innings.


    Yup: another fairytale, it looked like. Except if this was a storybook you were reading, what would happen is that right before you got to the last page, some jerk would come by and slap it down out of your hands. And then douse it in gasoline and light it on fire. And then pee on the fire, to put it out.


    Think I’m exaggerating? Read on. The bullet points:


    • That the O’s ever got back into this one seemed an unlikely prospect, to say the least, and can probably be chalked up to (1) Jason Hammel’s work, to keep the deficit to two, and (2) Indian starter Scott Kazmir finally, mercifully, bowing out of the proceedings. Because, easy as it is to forget — in hindsight, certain other storylines would come to dominate — this game began as a pitchers’ duel. And a really effin’ good one, at that, with both hurlers perfect through three frames, nine up, nine down, nothin’ doin’, goose-eggs all around. Et cetera. Hammel, as he is wont to do when he’s quote-unquote “on” (and he was, in this game, to an extent we probably haven’t seen all season), induced groundout after groundout, four such outs through his first three frames, six through four, eight through five — pretty much the only thing interrupting the parade of worm-burners being the occasional strikeout, thrown in (pun!) for good measure. Oh, and a couple walks and three scattered singles, plus, in the Cleveland fourth, the batter Hammel plunked, which was followed, on the seventh pitch of the subsequent Jason Kipnis at-bat, by a homer that just reached the stands in left-center. Now, that’s what I call some unfortunate timing: The first runner Hammel allows all night, and Kipnis has to go yard when he’s on. Blast you, Injuns! 


    • Of course, full credit to Jason for settling right back down after that, summoning a fly-out and yet another groundball to retire the side, then navigating through a peril-strewn fifth frame (leadoff walk, double play, pair of singles, inning-ending groundout), then returning to the hill for a one-two-three trip in the sixth, and yet again ducking trouble in his final frame (a caught-looking Drew Stubbs stranding a one-out walk and single and groundout that moved both runners into scoring position). For those following along at home, that meant Hammel had gone seven deep, surrendering two runs on four hits, with two free passes and five strikeouts. Not bad. Not bad at all. 


    • Trouble was, Kazmir — looking reborn, or like he’d found the mythical Fountain of Youth, which restored him to circa-2007 levels of ability — had actually managed to take a no-hitter into the seventh, a one-out walk of Matt Wieters in the fifth spoiling his bid for perfection. Yikes. And while the seventh itself was a slightly different story — Manny Machado led things off with a double hooked just inside the bag at third, moved up ninety feet following a botched pickoff attempt, and came in to score on a Chris Davis sac-fly — even then the Birds would have to settle for just the one run, halving the Cleveland lead … 


    • So imagine our collective relief when Kazmir appeared to have strained a muscle in his side (or something) whilst warming up for his eighth inning of work, and had to be pulled in favor of Joe (“Not the Terp”) Smith, who jumped ahead of J.J. Hardy nothing-and-two before the Oriole shortstop bounced deep to Cleveland 3B Lonnie Chisenhall’s right, with Chisenhall double-clutching and thus unable to relay to first in time for the out. A little lucky, perhaps, but it’s the Orioles’ second hit of the night; we’ll take it. And who knows, maybe it rattled Smith, who did get Nate McLouth to pop out but then walked Chris Dickerson on five pitches, missing badly on every offering save the get-me-over 3-0 pitch. First and second and one down: a great opportunity to at least square this thing up. But imagine our horror, now, when Nick Markakis bounces directly into the halfway-in Indian defense — but no double play after all! Dickerson charges into second base with a takeout slide, ably disrupting what might’ve been a 4-6-3 inning-ending twin-killing; Asdrubal Cabrera doesn’t even attempt the throw to first. One run in, and we’re now tied at 2. Woohoo! And now Machado strides to the dish again. The ephebic Oriole third-bagger works the count in his favor at 2-1 before lashing a pretty crappy hanging something-or-other from Smith deep into left, over the head of Michael Brantley and … off the wall, about midway up. Missed the three-run shot by just a couple of feet. But OK, the Birds now lead at 3-2, with just three defensive outs to go. Like we said, storybook stuff … 


    • Well, except for Jim Johnson, who had one of those kinds of performances. If the Oriole closer got off the hook last night despite some apparent shakiness, tonight it all came back tenfold. Still unable to command his fastball — and plus, tonight, without a three-run cushion, and without a good feel for the breaking pitch, either — Johnson walked his first batter, Brantley, on four consecutive offerings, all of them elevated, a couple of them way outside, too, in addition to sailing high. Probably figuring he might receive a meaty laid-in pitch to start the following at-bat, Jason Giambi didn’t miss it, like Machado smashing a rocket off the wall in deep left-center, missing the go-ahead homer by a matter of feet. Second and third and nobody out, now. Carlos Santana called upon to pinch-hit. The O’s opt to walk him intentionally. So now it’s bases loaded, still none away — and here’s where the baseball gods get cute. Remember how the Orioles tied this thing, in the eighth, on a double play the Indians couldn’t quite turn? Yeah, that would happen again, this time to the Orioles — twice. Chisenhall took a strike and a ball and then bounced to Alexi Casilla, who could record only the fielder’s-choice force at second. 3-3, runners on the corners, one away. And now Stubbs grounds maybe even a bit more sharply to third, where Machado fires to second for one but Casilla gets taken out with a Dickersonesque slide and can’t get the relay to first with enough pace to nab the hustling hitter. 4-3.. Troy Patton would come on in relief of Johnson, by now having not only blown the save but also put himself in a position to get the loss, and would (Patton, I mean) strike Michael Bourn out to keep the newly fashioned deficit to one … but the damage had been done. The Orioles would go in order, in their half, with Davis and Hardy fanning and Wieters lining out to second against Vinnie Pestano, who, for his part, performed like a closer ought to. And so despite it all — Hammel’s strong outing, another inspired comeback effort — 4-3, Indians, is your final, with tonight’s finale offering the Birds the chance merely to split, rather than win, the four-game set. Blech. 



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