Two men were on base, Ben Zobrist at the plate in the bottom of the ninth with two out. The bat cracked and the ball soared into right field, where it looked like it was going out. "F***! F***ing Kevin Gregg!" may have escaped my lips at a level inappropriate for an indoor voice. Then it looked like it was sinking and a fan might pull a Maier on it, but Nick Markakis came running in out of nowhere with a backhand, crashing-into-the-wall catch and Gary Thorne reacted as if the Orioles had just won the World Series.
After last April, you can't really blame Thorne, or anyone else, for being excited over a 2-0 start. Last year, it took the Orioles 18 games to record two wins. This year we have managed it in two games.
An entirely too-exciting 9th inning overshadowed what should have been a nice, calm and easy victory, which started out with Chris Tillman no-hitting the Rays through six innings. His command was a little shaky at times, with three walks, but he located his pitches when he needed to, getting five strikeouts and getting contact that went to his defenders. Tillman was pulled with the no-hitter intact, having thrown 101 pitches.
On the other side of the ledger, the Orioles offense was just as stymied by Rays starter James Shields, who was throwing changeup after changeup and the bottoms just kept falling out of them as Orioles batters kept swinging right over them. Shields struck out seven in 7.1 innings, but he ran out of gas in the top of the 8th, letting Mark Reynolds on base with a single and J.J. Hardy on a walk. That was enough for Joe Maddon, who gave the hook to Shields and tapped into his bullpen.
No fan ever feels truly good about their bullpen, nor should they; with rare exceptions, bullpen pitchers are in the bullpen because they aren't good enough to be starters. But the punditocracy is in agreement that the Rays' bullpen is unusually unstable to start this season. Maddon brought in Jake McGee, a left-hander, to turn Brian Roberts around to the right side. CCer YeahDonnie observed that when he thinks of Roberts in late-game situations he remembers the time the Yankees brought on a lefty in extra-innings to face Roberts and he promptly hit a walk-off homer. McGee hung the wrong pitch and Roberts blasted a no-doubter over the left field fence, giving the Orioles a three run lead.
Speaking of bullpens, the Orioles decided to make it interesting too as they took their 3-0 lead into the bottom of the 8th. Michael Gonzalez entered the game to start the inning as all of Birdland had horrible flashbacks to last April. Gonzalez even did what he does and proceeded to walk the first two batters he faced. That was about enough for Buck, who summoned the Sideburned One, Koji Uehara, who did surrender a run (charged to Gonzalez, the worthless one) on a single to Manny Ramirez that was so cheap as to be Jeterian but otherwise escaped unscathed.
On the subject of Orioles relievers who should have never been given two-year, $10 million contracts, Gregg was brought on for the 9th. He'd been warming up in the 9th inning last night after Jim Johnson gave up the home run, so I guess that makes him the "closer." Gregg gave up a first-pitch single to B.J. Upton, who was erased on a fielder's choice which should have been a GIDP except first base umpire Laz Diaz made like he was Jim Joyce at the end of Galarraga's perfect game. That wasn't Gregg's fault, but him walking the next guy was. The game ended on the long fly ball out to Markakis, but all we saw out of Gregg reinforced everyone's worst fears about him. He's appeared in one game and I already never want to see him again.
That's enough negativity out of me for one recap. The fact is the Orioles won the game in dramatic fashion, and I didn't even mention the play where Felix Pie and Matt Wieters teamed up to completely DESTROY Upton at the plate, after which Wieters turned his stony gaze back towards Upton to remind him of the folly he had just committed. See what I mean about the bullpen overshadowing all the rest of the cool stuff?
Zach Britton will be making his major league debut tomorrow afternoon, with some guy who doesn't matter because he's not an Oriole pitching for the Rays as the Orioles go for the sweep. Who would have even let themselves believe that was a possibility? I surely did not. 2-0 starts are fucking Birdland!