Written by Mike Laws
Scrappy, opportunistic O’s overcome early deficit — twice
Cleveland 3, Orioles 7
So here, apparently, is the new game plan: Once the Baltimore Orioles have clawed their way out of the obligatory early hole, and gotten themselves back on top, there is to be no settling for anything less than a four-run lead.
Even if this means having to load up on the insurance markers by way of a two-out rally — or continuing the two-out rally until that quota is met — well, so be it. After all, you can’t blow a save when there’s no save to blow.
OK. Now I’ve got that out of my system. I promise: No more mouthy little potshots at a certain embattled closer (who is, by the way, still leading the majors in saves — which makes application of the term embattled suspect at best, admittedly).
Besides, as I’ve said, there would be no need to vent any such spleen tonight. Not after the Birds wound up feathering their nest (nice, right?) with all those save- precluding bonus tallies.
Of course, how the team got to the point of enjoying a nice comfy four-run lead was more of a tortuous path. There’s a phrase my old man liked to use for this kind of contest — something ever so slightly old-timey, right up there with your cans of corn and baby bingles — and that was to call it a seesaw battle: Cleveland posts an early run to take the lead (Lonnie Chisenhall, homer, top of the second); the Orioles retort with two of their own in the bottom half (Chris Davis walks, Matt Wieters singles, J.J. Hardy bunts both men over, Travis Ishikawa strikes out but Ryan Flaherty comes through with two away); then the Indians level things back up (pair of doubles, in the fourth) and, an inning later, retake the advantage (Mike Aviles, another dinger); but then comes another response-in-kind: the telltale Oriole fifth.
Talk about a magical frame. Not only would the Birds hang a five-spot, when all was said and done (and not only would much of that damage come with two down), but many of the key figures just so happened to be the selfsame Oriole batsmen who’ve been getting roundly excoriated for much of the 2013 season. Put another way: Insomuch as half an inning can amount to such a thing, tonight’s Oriole fifth sure looked like a bona fide slump-buster. Flaherty got it started, his slapped single over third further ushering along the Baltimore second-bagger’s transition from goat back to hero. (In fact, Flaherty’s now above the Mendoza Line! — and I hope you won’t read that as my being in any way facetious, because I’m [seriously] not trying to be.) Anyway, Ryan’s leadoff knock was followed — eventually, on the ninth pitch he saw, having spoiled three consecutive payoff deliveries from Indian starter Corey Kluber (the pronunciation of whose name makes me feel like I’m about to choke on a marble) — by a roped liner back over the box and into center off the bat of Nate McLouth. Hmm, sure looked like one of those terrific early-season make-’em-work-type ABs we so loved seeing, from the scrappy outfielder. (By the way, watch the way he knits his brow between every pitch and you’d swear dude is having a basically constant existential crisis. What’s it all MEAN? But hey, Nate, whatever gets the job done.) …
Now, here came a little wrinkle in the storyline. Turning in an at-bat that seemed to hail from pretty much the opposite pole as McLouth’s, Manny Machado struck out on four total pitches, flailing at each of the three Kluber strikes he saw — the last of which he convinced himself he’d foul-ticked. On which point home-plate ump Will Little (who, if you’ll recall, had had something of a disagreement with Manny the night before, while working first base) disagreed. The youngster must’ve said something fresh on his way out of the box, too, because Little gave him the ol’ heave-ho right then and there, with Machado’s back still turned on his way into the first-base dugout. At least he was headed in the right direction, I guess …
But let’s not let that bit of silliness put any kind of a damper on the proceedings. Nick Markakis sure didn’t. With now one away, the right fielder took a hack at the first pitch he saw, and missed, but then connected with the subsequent offering, a fastball at roughly the level of Nick’s shoestrings he nonetheless somehow golfed airborne, up and over second, into center, good for driving home Flaherty with the game-tying tally. 3-3, and now Adam Jones likewise singled, going the opposite way with a dipping liner to the left of Cleveland right fielder Drew Stubbs, who bobbled the bouncing baseball, which at first looked like a missed opportunity for McLouth to charge on in with the go-ahead run. Drat. And worse, the Orioles looked for just a brief heart-in-stomach moment like they’d waste that and any other opportunities the inning had thus far afforded, with Davis chopping into what at first blush appeared a surefire inning-ending 4-6-3 double play — except for (1) Jones’s takeout slide, which disrupted the timing of Aviles’s relay to first, and (2) Davis’s laudable hustle down the line, which bested the throw by a stride. (Oh, yeah, and actually Jones’s slide was so good that Aviles, hearing those footsteps, was adjudged to have pulled off the bag at second prematurely; Adam was actually ruled safe, but didn’t realize as much, and got himself to his feet and jogged back to the dugout, and at some point — I guess (?) — was then declared out.)
So now there were two away — either a crying unlucky shame or a tremendously fortunate development, depending how you looked at it — but these Birds weren’t gonna be content settling for a one-run lead on the strength of an RBI fielder’s-choice groundout (or however the hell you’d rule that oddball play). Tomahawking the first pitch he saw from the Indian starter, a slider hung high that simply sat there, spinning for him, Wieters tagged the delivery deep down the line and into the right-field corner — where, again, Stubbs fielded the ball and then promptly lost his grip while attempting to chuck it back toward the infield, and had to stoop to regather and fire, by which time Markakis had trotted on in from third and Davis had bolted all the way around from first, drawing (for some reason) a relay to the plate that was almost comically late, and allowed Wieters (Wieters!) to cruise on over to third.
And how else to view Hardy’s follow-up RBI swinging bunt down the third-base line, which Kluber wound up booting almost into the camera well along that side, if not a desperation attempt to get to that magical four-run number? Wieters came in to score; Kluber was toast; all that remained was for Miguel Gonzalez (who yes I’m aware I’ve given extremely short shrift) to complete his six and two-thirds of (by his standards) just-fine work — three runs, all earned, on nine hits, but with zero free passes and also nine strikeouts — as well as for Brian Matusz, Troy Patton and Darren O’Day to keep that door nailed firmly shut. Which all of tonight’s Orioles hurlers did with aplomb. Here’s hoping the effort gifted Jim Johnson some quality (not to mention much-needed) downtime with which to kick back and watch a game he’s mercifully not needed in, and maybe carbo- or protein-load and possibly partake of some of what Ron Swanson refers to as mouth-tobacco and just generally let his arm-power levels replenish (which I’m assuming this works more or less like the players’ energy reserves in FIFA). As far as inspiration goes, you could do worse than taking in this particular series finale. 7-3, O’s, is your lovely final. And on to the Yankees …
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