Orioles 8, Rays 7: KOJI! KOJI! KOJI!

In some ways today's Orioles game was a Twilight Zone sort of game. The O's took the lead for good in the bottom of the 6th inning, but the winning pitcher was Alfredo Simon, who pitched the 8th inning only. There were three straight plays at the plate and the Orioles runner was safe every time. Felix Pie walked twice. Corey Patterson had 3 RBI. Cesar Izturis went 2-3 and walked. For the Rays, Rocco Baldelli hit a homer in his first plate appearance of 2010. Through all the weirdness, the Orioles came out on top for their 24th one-run victory of the year.

Though there was a lot of excitement in getting there, when it came to the top of the 9th inning with the Orioles holding on to an 8-7 lead, there was no question that Koji Uehara would be appearing in the game, even after having gone last night in the non-save situation and allowing two home runs. In typical Koji fashion, he quickly worked the count in his favor and struck out Ben Zobrist, then retired Carl Crawford on a pop foul to third. With two outs, the home crowd came to their feet and the chant started up: "KOJI! KOJI! KOJI!" Though the dangerous Evan Longoria was batting, Koji sent him down swinging, making Longoria just look bad chasing a ball low and away. He's not officially the closer, but it was his sixth save in six tries. More and more, Koji is looking like a guy we want to see come back next year.

In Chris Tillman's first start since mid-July, he did OK, if not great. In 5.1 innings pitched he had three earned runs allowed, all of which came from home runs - a solo shot by Ben Zobrist and a two-run bomb by Evan Longoria. He'd only thrown 87 pitches when he was yanked, but he was probably at the end of the rope. He left with a 4-3 lead - thanks to Patterson's 3 RBI off Tampa starter Wade Davis, but unfortunately today was a day for crappy bullpens. Jim Johnson entered the game, allowed a base hit to Reid Brignac and then a home run to B.J. Upton and then the score was 5-4 Rays. The Orioles bullpen was crappy, but thankfully so was the Rays.

Dan Wheeler came on from Tampa and walked Craig Tatum and then Cesar Izturis - quite a feat for a guy who ended the day with a .277 OBP. That was enough for Joe Maddon, who brought in Chad Qualls to face Josh Bell. The Nugget singled up the middle, and Gary "The Windmill" Allenson sent Tatum (on second base) home. I expected an out but Upton made a pretty bad throw. Next up was Brian Roberts, who hit a fly ball that Crawford couldn't quite bring in. It looked like he might, so Izturis didn't start running until the ball bounced. Windmill II sent Izzy, who also scored at the plate. Next, Nick Markakis also singled up the middle, scoring Bell on a third straight play at the plate - probably the closest of the three. Randy Choate came on to face Luke Scott - a curious decision since Scott was 5-9 off Choate, and Luke got an RBI off a sac fly to make the score 8-5.

Ordinarly, Johnson would have been the pitcher of record, but the official scorer tagged him with the "ineffective" designation, so that baton passed on to Michael Gonzalez, who came on for the 7th. Gonzo lived up to his Marlboro Man reputation from earlier in the year, looking like he couldn't really find the strike zone in walking Crawford. Two batters later he gave up the home run to Baldelli in Baldelli's first plate appearance of 2010. A game thread commenter noted that, from a human interest standpoint, you couldn't help but cheer for Baldelli. I can't say he's wrong, but I wish another team could have been on the wrong end of the humanitarian moment. By pitching one inning but giving up two runs, Gonzo was also deemed "ineffective", so Simon's perfect 8th was good for the win.

It was only the second rubber game the Orioles have won all season, which goes a long way to explaining that 51-86 record. But for all the doom and gloom that's been written about this stretch of AL East games (including by yours truly), the O's have started it up with a 3-3 record. If the O's can play solid the rest of the way, maybe we can avoid a 100 loss season after all. Next up, a three-game series with the New York Yankees in the most storied new stadium in the history of new stadiums. Brian Matusz takes the mound for the Orioles tomorrow afternoon (1:05pm start for the Labor Day game) against A.J. Burnett for the MFY. The O's are 2-10 against the Yankees on the year, but I say bring it on.

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