Written by Mike Laws
Pulled it out
How an opportunistic offense and some insane leatherwork saved Chen’s night
Orioles 3, Texas 1
Here’s a bit of irony for you: On a night when one of the more absent-minded moments in recent memory contributed directly to the sole run the ballclub gave up, it was, nevertheless, the Oriole defense that came through repeatedly to save Wei-Yin Chen’s neck.
Let’s start with the bad and the ugly, before moving on to the good. First off you’d have to say this wasn’t exactly Chen’s banner evening (though for a clearly not-quite-all-there outing, I’ll certainly take a one-run performance). Suffering spates of wildness and hanging breaking balls left and right, particularly early on in the affair, the southpaw didn’t enjoy a one-two-three inning all night long. In the Rangers’ first turn at the dish Chen surrendered a one-out double into the right-field corner from Elvis Andrus, then watched helplessly as A.J. Pierzynski likewise tugged a liner over first — which was called, perhaps generously, foul, despite what looked like some chalk the ball kicked up upon impact with the turf. (I know, I know: Might’ve just been errant moisture, as we saw with later base hits splashing down into the outfield.) Chen rebounded to pop Pierzynski out to short, then got Adrian Beltre — sporting a cool .530 batting average against the O’s, entering play — to bounce to third, where Manny Machado snagged it and swiped the passing Andrus, all in one deft motion, for the inning’s final out.
The second and third went more according to script, though here, too, trouble lurked in the form of a two-out walk (in the second) and a two-out single (in the third). Also you had the lefty-mashing Jeff Baker, fresh off the DL, taking an elevated fastball about as deep to center as the Ballpark in Arlington could contain, with a fine grab from Adam Jones, sprinting directly backward toward the wall, preventing extra bases to lead off the second. But Nick Markakis would one-up the center fielder just a couple innings later, when Beltre led off the fourth with a high blast the opposite way off another belt-high Chen fastball; destined to clear the wall in right by a foot or two, Nick tracked the drive back, felt for the wall, timed his leap to perfection and pulled the would’ve-been home run back in on a backhand at full extension, returning to earth and displaying the ball like it wun’t no thang. Jones trotted all the way over to offer his props. Beltre, meanwhile, having just rounded first, made a face like someone had dared touch his head. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, Google it. It’s priceless.)
Which was roughly where things took their ironic turn. Leading at this point by a score of 2-0 — Matt Wieters had homered with two away in the second; Brian Roberts drew a tough walk to lead off the third, and came all the way around on a Nate McLouth double to the wall in right — and with the crowd still abuzz on the heels of Markakis’s grand larceny, Baker (again) singled to center. Then Mitch Moreland walked on four consecutive balls — and Baker, seeing that Chen had other worries, as he received the toss from Wieters, and seeing that Machado was still moseying back to third base, having been swung around in one of those exaggerated defensive shifts, took off for third, and made it without a throw. That’s some Little League stuff right there. How do you even score that? Defensive indifference? Stolen base? Whatever the case, Craig Gentry delivered Baker with a sac-fly liner to Markakis in right, making it 2-1, now, before Jurickson Profar dinked a single into shallow left and but Chen fanned Leonys Martin on some high/inside cheese, warding off further damage.
So Machado and the Birds had some atoning to do, though it wasn’t gonna come easy, not against Derek Holland, Chen’s lefty counterpart, who in truth probably outshone the Oriole starter in every category except R/ER. (Holland would go a full eight innings, striking out six, including Chris Davis on three separate occasions.) But baseball being the funny game it is, in the fifth it was Machado reaching on what was not, for some reason (hometown scoring, is my guess), ruled an error on Ian Kinsler, who fielded nicely on a backhand near the bag at second but rushed his throw, which Moreland couldn’t dig out of the dirt. Markakis then dunked a short single of his own into shallow left-center, with Gentry narrowly missing on a nice diving effort and Profar, backing Gentry up (or attempting to), overrunning the ball, which spun back off toward the left-field line behind both Texas outfielders, permitting a hustling, helmetless Machado to round third and score. The Rangers had gifted the run right back …
And, runs being at a premium, the insurance marker would be all the Birds would need. It still wasn’t going altogether smoothly for Chen, but his defense now appeared determined to bail the starter out: Witness the play Roberts turned in, following a leadoff double from Kinsler in the fifth, ranging into the hole behind second and slinging an over-the-shoulder throw to nab Andrus for the frame’s first out. Chen then helped his own cause, flagging a little tapper back to the mound that, though he couldn’t field it cleanly, the hurler kept close enough to his person to retrieve it and wheel and fire to first in time to retire the not-exactly-fleet-of-foot Pierzynski, with Kinsler having to hold at third. Chen then got Beltre to tomahawk a fastball down to third, where Machado had plenty of time to gun it over to Davis for the inning’s final out.
The web-work didn’t stop there. Baker, yet again, singled to center to lead off the sixth. Chen got Moreland swinging, but Gentry then split the gap in right — a surefire run-scoring double if Jones couldn’t cut it off (he could) and/or deliver the ball back to the infield in a hurry (he did that, too), and, though his throw sailed over the head of cutoff man Roberts, J.J. Hardy was there backing up, and turned to make the relay home, at which point he saw Baker slam on the brakes at about the halfway point down the line from third. Hardy threw behind him; Machado applied the tag: an easy out, in the end. Whew. Profar flied out to center; again Chen had worked his way out of some real potential jeopardy.
Meanwhile, Holland kept steamrolling right along, and Chen’s night was through following the first out of the seventh, when Kinsler stroked another double deep to left. Enter Darren O’Day, ever the unsung hero: The side-armer got Andrus to bounce out to third (hat-tip to Machado for somehow seeing through the passing Kinsler, keeping his concentration and making the pickup) and Pierzynski to fly out to center. Side retired, into the eighth we go, O’Day still working on the hold. He got the mighty Beltre on one pitch (with Davis ranging into the crowd, stealing the flare from a smattering of outstretched Texas-fan arms, folding himself in half over the railing following the catch, but holding onto the ball and flipping from glove to hand to show the ump as much). O’Day struck out Baker, swinging on 3-2 (this after a horrific non-call on a fastball Baker watched cruise right down the middle). He struck out Moreland, swinging on 3-2 (this on some sailing high cheese). Two and two-thirds of great stuff from Darren — not to mention, finally, a one-two-three inning …
So would Jim Johnson enjoy one of those same nice, easy, nothing-doing innings of work, to earn his Major League-leading thirty-fourth save of the year? Well, not exactly. Providing O’s fans with the usual fright, Johnson promptly surrendered a leadoff single to the pinch-hitting David Murphy. Uh-oh. Potential tie run at the plate. Not good. But Johnson whiffed Profar on a 3-2 fastball sinking under the hands. And he got Martin to fly out to right on one pitch. And he jumped out ahead of Kinsler nothing-and-two (okay, Jim, attaboy) … before losing the grip on a curveball and plunking the Texas second baseman on the back of the arm. D’oh! The potential winning run now at the plate, Johnson worked Andrus into an 0-1 count, then 1-1, then 1-2, then 2-2, before (exhale) inducing a bouncer to Hardy’s right, giving the shortstop just enough time to rush it over to second for the game-ending force on Kinsler. Like Meat Loaf said: Sometimes it don’t come easy. But the Orioles win, 3-1.
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