Worth The Wait, Orioles win 4-to-2
Written by Mike Laws
Worth the wait
O’s hold off Yanks to complete first sweep of season
New York Yankees 2, Orioles 4
Well, I guess we’ve got a new reason to gripe about Fox and ESPN not giving the Orioles the glitzy weekend primetime slots often enough: When they do, the Birds do that.
What’s that? Why, young man, you haven’t been paying attention! Far from looking lost in the limelight, the O’s turned in a pair of statement-making performances, the statement being: Mr. Buck (and Mr. Kruk), they’re ready for their close-up.
Which is all a fancy way of saying that after a night (on Fox) on which they stomped the rival New York Yankees to the tune of 11-3, the Birds came back (on ESPN) with a finer-wrought performance, 4-2, to complete their (gasp) first sweep of 2013.
Ahhhhhh. On to the bullet points:
- We’ll get the offense out of the way first. After all, that’s essentially what the Orioles did in this one, blasting three solo home runs in the first three innings against NYY ace Hiroki Kuroda (who entered play with an eye-popping 2.77 ERA — a figure made even eye-popping-er [sorry] when you considered the 7-5 mark next to it. Who is he, Mike Mussina?). Our favorite trio of talking heads from over at The Worldwide Leader In Sports had no sooner finished heaping praise upon Manny Machado — he’s as good as Trout and Harper, and humbler, too, plus plays a tougher defensive position — than the youngster jumped on a hanging Kuroda changeup at 2-1, taking a break from torching doubles to the gap (he’d take care of that in his next at-bat) long enough to rocket this first-inning liner into the stands in left, which were, predictably, now thoroughly rollicking. 1-0. In the second it was Chris Davis’s turn, which was perhaps equally predictable, and which likewise came just after Messrs. Shulman, Kruk and Hershiser made note of Crush’s being the first player ever to post 30 homers and over 25 doubles by the end of June (though they lose points for parroting the already-tired “letting the ball travel” talking point, in explaining his success). Kuroda fell into a 2-0 hole against the big man; a conference on the mound ensued; the sinkerballer came back with a meaty-looking changeup that Davis let slide for a called strike. It was almost as if he wanted to show he’d hit the tougher pitch out — and that’s precisely what he did, slapping Kuroda’s 2-1 tailing fastball all the way out to left-center, into another section of happy bleachers.
- Davis’s (my Gawd) thirty-first home run of the year again advanced the O’s to a one-run lead, at 2-1; Nate McLouth’s solo shot, with one away in the third, again off a hanging off-speed delivery, this time onto the flag court in right, provided some additional cushion, at 3-1. And it appeared the Birds would need all they could get, the way starter Chris Tillman was going. The de facto Oriole ace had enjoyed a pretty nice-and-quiet first frame of work, needing just four offerings to retire Brett Gardner (pop-up, first-pitch swinging) and Ichiro Suzuki (grounder into the hole, where Ryan Flaherty dived to his right and fired from his knees, with a nice scoop from Davis nabbing Ichiro by a half-step), though he’d then gone into a deep count against Robinson Cano and wound up surrendering a single, but polished matters off with a caught-looking strikeout of Travis Hafner. The second wouldn’t be as kind: His command having apparently up and deserted him (not to mention home-plate ump Paul Schrieber’s anorexic strike zone), Tillman sandwiched a quick pair of outs between singles to Zoilo Almonte and Chris Stewart, then walked David Adams (a strike, then four straight misses) and, the bases now loaded, Gardner, too, plating the first Yankee run of the game before he got Ichiro to pop out to short.
- But after that, as he is wont to do, Tillman settled right in, facing the bare-minimum nine Yankee batsmen over his next three innings of work (with a tip of the cap to McLouth, in the third, for nailing Hafner attempting to stretch a double out of his lucky looper down the left-field line). Over that span the Oriole right-hander struck out three, and got toughest-outs-in-the-NY-lineup Cano and Ichiro to fly out on the first pitch they saw. Nicely done. His sixth, too, would be a relatively quick trip to the hill — but, sadly, one that featured Cano socking a homer to right-center off a middle-in 1-2 fastball, which, though the game didn’t really feel this close, cut the margin to just the one run …
- And meanwhile, Kuroda had stopped hanging off-speed garbage and started mixing in that killer sinker, striking out the side in the fourth, stranding a one-out Brian Roberts single in the fifth with two more K’s, and requiring just ten pitches to mow down the meat of the Baltimore order in the sixth. And now, now in the top of the seventh, it was time for the relief corps, here in the person of Darren O’Day — who gave us quite the scare. Though it wasn’t really his fault; the side-armer’s 2-2 pitch to the first man he faced, Jayson Nix, wasn’t even debatably a ball outside; probably no fraction of the ball even missed the plate; you kinda just kept waiting for Schrieber’s arm to go up, but somehow it never did. And three pitches later, two of them fouled off by Nix (and one of those a ball that just barely reached the stands down the left-field line, which McLouth probably could’ve had except some clown stuck his hand up and prevented it falling into the justifiably indignant LFer’s outstretched mitt), O’Day had walked the leadoff hitter. More hard luck followed when Stewart bounced to third for what would’ve been a tailor-made Machado-led twin-killing but for the fact Nix had taken off on the 0-2 delivery, and was already standing atop second, forcing Machado to go to Davis for the first out of the inning. The potential tie run now in scoring position, O’Day lost No. 9 hitter Adams: his second walk of the inning. The Oriole reliever then fell 2-0 behind Gardner. Uh-oh. But how’s this for bouncing back? O’Day, now sheened in sweat, got a decidedly friendlier call on a sweeping backdoor breaking ball, then threw the same pitch in under Gardner’s hands to level the count, then — exhale — induced a harmless fly to short center, good for the inning’s (huge) second out. O’Day wouldn’t get the help on a curiously similar outer-half slider to Ichiro, at 1-2, but did get the speedster to pop up into foul ground off the fists, taking no chances and fielding this one himself, snagging it on a dead run off the mound and back into the welcoming confines of the Orioles’ first-base-side dugout. That’s relief in more ways than one …
- So now it was clearly time for the Birds to furnish a little insurance. Matt Wieters was game, working the count to full before spoiling a pair of Kuroda offerings and, finally, depositing a single into right. J.J. Hardy wouldn’t wait quite as long, taking a first-pitch ball then slashing a double over the head of Almonte in left. Second and third, now, no one out, and Joe Girardi opted for left-hander Boone Logan, drawing Buck Showalter’s countermove: southpaw-masher Danny Valencia in for Flaherty. But the pinch hitter, though he enjoyed a favorable count at 3-1, chased a fastball up around his eyes, and in the end could only bounce meekly back to Logan, who looked Wieters (yeah, right) back to third and recorded the first out of the frame, at first. Drat. But how about Roberts, in his first game back, moved over to the right side of the dish, taking a strike and a ball and lifting a fly to deep enough center to send Matt from third — a kind of comedy of errors, given his complete lack of running ability, but also Gardner’s complete lack of an arm; Wieters came chugging in just ahead of a relay that was more or less on line, but also woefully weak, and bouncing/rolling, and slid in with the fourth run of the night for the home team, the blessed insurance marker.
- And now a question: To Jim Johnson, or not to Jim Johnson? Troy Patton had faced his one lefty, in the eighth, retiring Cano on a can-o’-corn to center, before Girardi went with pinch hitter Vernon Wells, which brought Buck out to the mound: It was Tommy Hunter time. Hunter struck out Wells on three pitches — two fastballs, one wicked spiked slider. He gone! Hunter needed just one additional pitch to ground Almonte out, and the side was retired. To recap, that’s four total deliveries, from the right-hander. Would we see another inning-plus save? We wouldn’t. Out Johnson came, for the ninth — and promptly coughed up a Lyle Overbay double to the gap in right-center. No cheap hit, that one. Worse, the place had gone dead-silent; it was like the cops showing up to an all-night kegger. Still, Johnson fanned Nix on a nice tailing two-seamer under the hands (at a full count, on the seventh pitch of the at-bat, with maybe a generous strike call in there from Schrieber), which got the Yards humming again; and then he went up 0-2 on Stewart, but couldn’t put him away, with Stewart spoiling a couple more and taking two nowhere-close balls in the dirt — and then Johnson drilled Stewart in the back, meaning the potential tying run was now aboard. Can’t imagine he meant to do that. Again the funereal pall fell over Oriole Park — but now, mystifyingly, Johnson (now working appreciably faster, after what must’ve been Wieters’s tenth visit to the hill) came back and fanned Adams on three pitches. Yeesh, Jim, which is it? And on his next delivery, to Gardner, the closer escaped trouble entirely, inducing a comeback that bounded over the mound and behind second, where Alexi Casilla, on in replacement of Valencia, who’d pinch-hit for Flaherty, ranged to his right and snared it and glove-flipped to Hardy at second in time to record the game-ending force. Whew. It wasn’t pretty, and it might’ve been different if this weren’t the injury-depleted triple-A Yankees we were talking about, but it got the job done. Johnson the save, O’Day-Patton-Hunter the hold, Tillman the win, some nice defense, a splendid job of touching up Kuroda when they could; Orioles win, 4-2, the sweep complete. And all is right again in Birdland.
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