BALTIMORE, MD - JUNE 10: J.J. Hardy #2 of the Baltimore Orioles rounds the bases after hitting a home run in the first inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on June 10, 2011 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
Last night the Orioles started a game that most of us thought they didn't have a very good chance to win. Jake Arrieta is our boy, to be sure, but he's had some troubles this year, and man, he can walk some guys, can't he? He was facing one Jeremy Hellickson, who is not only a Rookie of the Year candidate, but has also shut out the Orioles twice this year, and he beat them in his major league debut last August.
Let's talk offense first. J.J. Hardy got the call to bat leadoff for the second time in his career, the first being this past Tuesday. In that game he got his leadoff hitter career started with a bang, hitting a home run in his first at bat. That's exactly what he did again last night, giving the O's an early 1-0 lead. Hardy would reach base all five times in the game, adding a single, two walks, and a hit by pitch.
Hellickson got into more trouble in the second inning, walking Luke Scott to start the inning. Mark Reynolds doubled, putting runners on second and third with no outs. The Orioles looked like they'd roll over the way we've come to know as Felix Pie lined out to second and Robert Andino bizarrely tried to bunt. Either it was a squeeze and Luke missed the sign or Andino is just crazy. Hardy came to bat next, and he's a guy I want to see in this situation. He worked the count to 3-2 and ultimately walked. Hellickson may have been pitching around him a little bit, and who can blame him? Sad sack Nick Markakis was on deck, and everyone knows he can't get an extra base hit to save his life.
For all those who thought Nick would ground out weekly to second base, I think someone owes someone an apology. Nick only needed one pitch to put a Hellickson curveball onto the flag court for a grand slam home run. Wow, are you kidding me? It was Nick's first home run since May 15th and his first extra-base hit in 89 at bats. That gave the O's a 5-0 lead.
Hellickson looked more like his normal self after that and didn't allow any more runs. But in the eighth inning, with Andy Sonnanstine pitching in relief, Nick struck again. After Robert Andino doubled and Hardy singled, Nick launched a ball to the opposite field for a double. Both Andino and Hardy scored, giving Nick an amazing six RBI on the night.
For all of those who thought Hellickson would outpitch Arrieta, I think someone owes someone an apology! All Jake did was throw five no-hit innings en route to a 7 inning, 2 hit performance. He got off to a worrisome start by walking leadoff hitter Johnny Damon, but Damon didn't get the "Don't run on Matt Wieters" memo. Actually, in this case it should have been "Don't run on JJ. Hardy," because he made an awesome play on a low throw by Wieters to tag Damon out. That was all the help Arrieta needed as he retired the next nine batters before walking Ben Zobrist with one out in the fourth. Evan Longoria conveniently grounded into a double play to wipe Zobrist out and keep Arrieta at the minimum faced through four innings.
After a 1-2-3 fifth inning, Sam Fuld started off the sixth with a solid double to left-center field that bounced into the stands. It's always a guy like Fuld, and his .279 OBP, that break up a no hitter, isn't it? Couldn't be Evan Longoria or Ben Zobrist, nope. Justin Ruggiano followed Fuld with a ground ball to third base that Mark Reynolds couldn't make a throw on. It looked like an error to me, but was scored a single. Arrieta buckled down, after that, getting Reid Brignac to pop out and Damon to ground into a double play.
Arrieta pitched one more inning, giving up one more walk, before coming out of the game. He was at just 98 pitches, but in the muggy Baltimore weather and with a seven-run lead, Jake was pulled. He was replaced in the eighth by the sideburned one. Koji Uehara pitched a scoreless eighth, and with the big lead, Michael Gonzalez came in for the ninth.
Gonzalez again had a tough time. What else is new? He walked two and another reached on a throwing error by Mark Reynolds. He got out of it without allowing a run, and the Orioles earned their fourth straight victory. Tonight will be another tough challenge, as Jeremy Guthrie faces David Price.