Wow, what a game. To quote the fantastic Joe Angel, my goodness. Young Zach Britton pitched the finest game of any Orioles' starter yet this year, shutting down the Mariners offense for nine innings. Britton allowed only three hits, all singles, and he didn't walk a batter. He struck out five and needed just 108 pitches for what would have normally been a complete game effort. But since the Orioles' offense is pretty terrible, nine shutout innings weren't enough.
There have been years when I couldn't decide who my favorite starting pitcher on the Orioles was. Usually, though, it was because they were all terrible and picking a favorite was picking the guy that sucked the least. This year, though, it's been a battle for my heart, and for all the right reasons. When Jake Arrieta pitches, I can't imagine liking another O's pitcher more. I feel the same when Zach Britton pitches. I don't know what I'm going to do when Brian Matusz returns.
Britton was masterful from the start. He retired the side in order in the first inning and worked around a weak single by Jack Cust in the second. After an easy third inning, he allowed another single in the fourth, this one to Justin Smoak, one of the few hard hit balls on the day for the Mariners. In the fifth inning he allowed his third and final hit, and it was an infield single by Jack Wilson that glanced off of his glove and slowed down just enough to keep shortstop J.J. Hardy from making the play. The fifth inning ended with Matt Wieters throwing out Luis Rodriguez trying to get to second base. It's hard to blame the guy for trying; after all, no Mariner had been able to get to second base all night. But when will these cats learn not to run on Matt Wieters?
It was smooth sailing for Britton the rest of the way as, after the single by Wilson, he retired the final thirteen batters he faced. From the fifth through the ninth innings he never needed more than twelve pitches to retire the side, and he looked just as strong in the ninth inning as he did the entire game. It was just a brilliant, brilliant outing.
Not so brilliant was the offense. Lefty Jason Vargas gave them chances, but they just kept grounding into double plays. At one point I began to wonder if the Orioles thought that someone changed the rules and that you got extra credit for double plays, because they just seemed to love them.
Leading off the first inning, Brian Roberts snapped his 0-for-26 skid with a single to center. But then Nick Markakis (whose awful night I'm going to chalk up to him being tired from all the flu induced vomiting) grounded into a double play. Derrek Lee hit a fly ball for the final out.
In the second inning, Adam Jones and Matt Wieters singled back-to-back with one out, but then J.J. Hardy ended the rally by grounding into a double play.
On to the third inning, where Robert Andino singled with one out, and then can you guess what happened? You got it. Roberts GIDP'd. Are you sensing a pattern?
That'd be it for the double plays for a little while, and the Orioles continued to put runners on but not bring them in. After a 1-2-3 fourth inning, the O's had one baserunner in each of the fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth innings, but couldn't do anything with them.
Going into the bottom of the ninth, the Orioles had one last chance to get the win for Zach Britton, save their bullpen, and avoid their second extra-innings game in three days. Vargas returned to the mound and whaddya know, the O's went down in order. Sigh.
Free baseball! After nine fantastic innings, Britton was replaced by Kevin Gregg. I watched tonight's game with my mother, who muttered upon seeing Gregg on the television, "Oh no, not this guy." My mother isn't even much of a baseball fan, and even she knows not to like seeing him pitch. True to form, Gregg walked the first batter he saw, Smoak. After a sacrifice bunt by Miguel Olivo to move Smoak to second, the Orioles opted to walk Jack Cust intentionally. The move paid off as Mike Wilson grounded into a double play to end the inning. There's a taste of your own medicine, Mariners!
Three of my favorite Orioles, Matt Wieters, J.J. Hardy, and Felix Pie, went down in order in the tenth. Good job, guys. The Mariners who batted in the top of the eleventh faced the same fate, being retired 1-2-3 by Jim Johnson.
In the bottom of the eleventh, after a pinch-hit ground out by Luke Scott, Brian Bob singled for his second hit of the night. It was a weak grounder that just got past the second baseman, but it got a guy on base...just in time for NIck Markakis to GIDP to end the inning. That's just great.
JJ returned to pitch the top of the twelfth and fell victim to the awesomeness of Ichiro. Ichiro hit a soft ground ball to Hardy at shortstop, and though Hardy did what he could to make the play, Ichiro was just too fast. Chone Figgins followed with a ground ball to Roberts at first. Roberts bobbled the ball but it looked like he wouldn't have had a play on the speedy Ichiro anyway. He threw to first to get Figgins. The next batter, Adam Kennedy, hit a ground ball to shortstop. Ichiro was running on the play and while Hardy thought about trying to get him, he ultimately got the out at first. One single to Miguel Olivo (and a weak single at that, it just got through the infield) and the Mariners had the first run of the game.
With the lead, the Mariners turned to their closer Brandon League. You might remember that League blew the save in the last extra-innings game just two days ago. Silky D got things started with a line drive single to right. League then went 0-2 on Vladimir Guerrero (two fouls, naturally) before plunking Vlad right in the booty. League either really couldn't control his pitches or he just hates the Orioles, because the next pitch he threw hit Adam Jones in the hip to load the bases. Thanks, Brandon! The Orioles will take the bruises.
With the tying and winning runs in scoring position, the Mariners moved the infield in for Wieters. Matt hit a liner to the left side that shortstop Rodriguez caught in the air for the first out. That brought Hardy to the plate, poised to be the hero. And did he come through? You betcha! On the second pitch of the AB, Hardy lined a ball back up the middle. Silky D scored easily and Jake Fox (who was pinch running for Vlad, that's how slow Vlad is) beat the throw to the plate to secure the win.
For the second time this series the O's mobbed each other after the walkoff win, this time attacking J.J. Hardy. Hardy ended up on the ground getting pummeled by his teammates as Jim Palmer wailed on television, "Don't hurt him! He just came off the disabled list."
So there's the sweep. Now on to Tampa Bay!