Written by Mike Laws
Dunn atones with ninth-inning winner
Orioles 2, Chicago White Sox 3
How often do you see a guy turn in a stellar defensive play, then come up and blast a long ball?
About as often as you see one commit a ghastly error, then make good at the plate.
So it went on Thursday in the Orioles’ Fourth of July series finale with the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field. Forget the brilliant performances from the starters. Forget the timely late singles and doubles and sac-flies. This one was all about Adam Dunn.
Who the Sox, most assuredly, are not paying for his prowess manning first. And to be fair, even if he’d fielded it cleanly, the pinch-hitting Matt Wieters’s topspin bounder down the line would’ve still scored Brian Roberts, who’d led off the eighth with a hard-won eight-pitch walk off reliever Nate Jones, then moved around to third when Nate McLouth smacked Jones’s next delivery so hard on the ground past Dunn that it wound up nearly making it all the way to the wall. Pinch hitter Chris Dickerson followed, falling into an 0-2 hole on identical sliders before experiencing some tough luck in being unable to elevate his eventual liner up the middle over the head of Gordon Beckham, who half-leapt and brought it down; at which point Oriole skipper Buck Showalter opted for a second straight substitute batsman, this time Wieters.
The everyday Oriole backstop’s at-bat was, shall we say, less than stellar: He got a piece of Jones’s first offering, ticking it into the dirt, then took a ball and waved at a fastball. The count now 1-2, the infield not in, Wieters then pulled his bouncer down to Dunn, who ranged a step or two to his left — and had the ball hop into and out of the palm of his first baseman’s mitt and roll off into foul territory. One run scored. McLouth probably could’ve, too — and likely would’ve tried, if his name had been Yasiel Puig or Bryce Harper — but was held at third, given that the O’s had now been gifted another out to work with. True to form, the red-hot Nick Markakis stepped up, likewise fell into an 0-2 hole, laid off another of those tempting sliders breaking down out of the zone, and lifted a liner deep enough to right-center to bring McLouth in the old-fashioned, small-ball way. The score was now tied, 2-2.
It seemed like a miracle, given how thoroughly iced-down Chicago starter Jose Quintana had kept the Birds all afternoon. After a comparatively difficult first frame of work — Quintana surrendered a one-out bunt single to Manny Machado, then walked (!!!) Adam Jones before Chris Davis ripped a liner back through the box, which nearly took the southpaw’s head right with it, but was directed directly at the shifted-around shortstop, and went for an easy double play to end the inning — you could safely say Quintana settled in quite nicely: He allowed precisely one more baserunner to reach throughout the rest of his seven innings, that being the two-out single Markakis sliced over third in an otherwise-unremarkable third inning. Oh, yeah, and the lefty struck out eleven.
Of course, for his part, Zach Britton was also very, very good. Good sink on the fastball — and the ability to throw it in under the hands of left-handed hitters — an effective changeup, nice bite on the breaking ball: The visitors’ starting southpaw had it going on, too. And weirdly enough, through the early innings, it was his defense that seemed to be tempting fate; in fact, the very first hitter Britton faced, Alejandro De Aza, knocked a routine-looking two-hopper out to Hardy, who appeared to try to be making the transfer before he had the ball firmly in his glove, and stood helpless as it skittered off into center. Still, Britton rallied himself to record three quick outs, after the error, including getting the ever-tough Alex Rios to roll into a (for Hardy) redemptive 6-4-3 twin-killing. Same went for the fourth, when Rios led off with a single into center, stole second without a throw and, though Britton fanned both Dunn and Dayan Viciedo, wound up taking third when the final strike against the Chicago DH and cleanup man eluded the grasp of catcher Taylor Teagarden (who was charged with a passed ball despite the fact the pitch, one of those wicked curves, had bounced just in front of the glove). So again Britton’s defense (arguably) could’ve cost him big, in such a close-run affair, but again the starter came up big, grounding Jeff Keppinger out to second to end the threat.
Even so, it’d be Britton who gave in first, and who, for a time, found himself in line for what would’ve been a tough loss. Alexei Ramirez greeted the Oriole lefty with a double in the sixth (taking advantage of one of the few truly bad pitches Britton delivered all afternoon, a hanging breaking ball), and was followed by a Rios single up the middle, which A. Jones fielded and rocketed back in toward home; the throw wasn’t cut off, permitting Rios to advance to second; neither did it go for an out, though whether Ramirez ever grazed the plate on his slide around Teagarden’s outstretched cleat remains debatable. That made it 1-0, still with nobody down; and though Viciedo flied out to center, he’d driven the ball deep enough to move Rios to third, whence Dunn cashed him in with a single into left through the drawn-in Baltimore infield. 2-0. Tough to swallow, for sure, but props to Britton for hanging in there to not only finish the inning without further damage, but to toss a scoreless one-two-three seventh, as well (to say nothing of the fact the Oriole starter had appeared, way back in the fourth, to have pulled something or cramped up, following a certain delivery; but maybe he just needs more potassium. Bananas, kid!).
Anyway, it was as nice to see Britton get himself off the hook for the loss as it was to witness yet another in the past two seasons’ parade of late-inning comeback efforts, even if this one had taken an unfortunate (for the Sox) error to mount. But here’s where things get a whole lot sadder. Tommy Hunter tossed a scoreless bottom half. Addison Reed matched Hunter, in the Oriole ninth. Hunter then returned, notching a quick fly-ball out of Viciedo before falling 2-0 and eventually 3-2 to big Dunn. Better just to walk the mega-home-run threat, right? Well, apparently either Hunter or battery-mate Wieters or the shot-calling Showalter basically agreed, and figured maybe Hunter could get Dunn to chase on one of those nasty sliders out of the zone — trouble was, Hunter’s slider wasn’t out of the zone at all, and instead hung up and out over the outside corner. And Dunn didn’t miss it. The Chicago first-bagger drove a Davisesque opposite-field shot to dead left, redeeming himself for the costly error — and crushing the newly raised hopes of Oriole Nation. Sox win, 3-2, in the ninth. Orioles drop the series, two games to one. Better luck in New York.
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