I have a confession to make. I spent a lot of time in the last six or so innings of this game composing in my head a story about the Orioles losing this game. I was all ready to start writing under the geeky subtitle of "LOBstrosities" and make a bunch of jokes involving The Dark Tower by Stephen King. I was fully prepared for the O's to find a way to lose this game. For a while it seemed like they were trying so hard to lose it. The box score was strewn with squandered opportunities. But then came Derrek Lee, who remembers the face of his father. Lee led off the bottom of the 12th with a walk-off homer, and just like that a night that seemed ticketed for disaster instead ended up with lovely totals.
You can't really blame me for starting to think negatively on a night like tonight. It felt like the Orioles had their big chance in the bottom of the 11th inning, when J.J. Hardy (extend this man!) led off with a fly ball to center that clipped off the glove of Reds center fielder Drew Stubbs as he chased it to the warning track. Hardy ended up on second and was credited with a double, where he still stood at the close of the inning. How do you fail to score the winning run when it's in scoring position with nobody out in the bottom of the inning of a tie game in extra frames? Nick Markakis grounder to third, Adam Jones fly ball to right, Vladimir Guerrero intentional walk, Felix Pie fielder's choice. That's how.
The nightmare scenario seemed to be underway for O's fans as Michael Gonzalez came on to pitch the top of the 12th. Brandon Phillips got a cheap single to right that Markakis just couldn't rein in. Gonzo was pitching, so we all had to expect nothing less than disaster. But Gonzo got a ground ball from Joey Votto, erasing Phillips at second, then a lazy fly ball by Scott Rolen and was almost out of danger.
The next batter was Jay Bruce, and he lined a ball into center field. Jones broke for the catch and for a moment it looked like he might get it as he dove, but the ball slipped underneath him. "Oh God, no!" screamed the Birdland faithful, as it looked like a sure disaster. Jones wasn't done yet though, because the tip of his glove wiped out most of the ball's momentum and it didn't get far beyond him. He fired a ball in to Hardy, who spun and delivered a strike to a perfectly-positioned Matt Wieters at home plate. Votto tried his best to arrest his slide and jump over the swipe tag, but a divine being like Wieters is not so easily led astray. The tag was applied, and the inning was over.
All momentum favored the Orioles after such a thrilling play, but how many times have we seen them squander the chance to step on the other team's throat and put them away? Not tonight, though. Lee ended all the possible angst with his walkoff.
There might have been a hell of a lot of angst, too, because before Lee's homer the O's had ten hits, nine walks and only managed four runs. That was an abominable 2-14 with RISP, with a total 0-for after the fourth inning.
Blake Davis gave the O's some positive vibes early in the game. He came to the plate with two men on base in the bottom of the second and tripled to deep center. Davis, who was starting because Buck Showalter wanted to get him back in a game quickly after his mistake on Wednesday afternoon, redeemed that decision and got some atonement for his error.
Jones homered in the bottom of the third and Hardy scored Wieters on an RBI single in the fourth to stake the O's to a 4-0 lead that almost looked like it might hold for a while. Chris Jakubauskas had the Reds scoreless through four, but as is his wont he lost his edge in the fifth. He gave up three hits and a walk and three runs scored, so he didn't come out for the sixth even though he'd only thrown 76 pitches. I hope Jack O'Boskie has some more stamina to build up in that arm, because he's not going to be doing much innings-eating the way he is.
Jason Berken pitched the sixth and allowed the Reds to complete the comeback. Jonny Gomes doubled with one out and ended up on third thanks to a wild pitch. He then scored on a single by Reds SS Paul Janish, who is hitting .233 on the season. Yeah, it could have been one of those games. There were a plethora of missed scoring opportunities, including 13 men left on base as a team, but the post-Berken pitchers chose tonight to not suck: Jim Johnson and Koji Uehara threw two scoreless innings each, with even Kevin Gregg and Gonzalez going a scoreless inning.
The game went a lot longer than it might have, but thanks to Lee's 12th-inning heroics, all ended well, for this night at least. Lee was 3-for-5 on the night with the walk-off homer and a double.
Although Markakis extended his hitting streak to 14 games, he ends up with the most demerits tonight thanks to his rally-killing GIDP in the bottom of the 2nd. Reds starter Edinson Volquez, who was wild as hell and showing horrible body language on the mound, could have been on the ropes but Markakis bailed him out. In the top of the third, Markakis just failed to catch a fly ball from former Oriole Ramon Hernandez that was scored a double.
Still, one can't be too negative on a night like tonight. There were many ways the O's might have lost but they found one way to win, and that's what counts. The O's will look to make it two in a row tomorrow night on Buck Showalter bobblehead night. The O's will need Brian Matusz to get his game together, because the bullpen's depleted after this extra-inning affair. Maybe they can continue the offensive onslaught against Bronson Arroyo and actually score with RISP this time.
Who was the Most Birdland Player for June 24, 2011?
Blake Davis (balanced out the ledger) (10 votes)
Derrek Lee (three hits including walk-off home run) (178 votes)
K-K-K-oji Uehara (now sporting 0.77 WHIP) (15 votes)
Matt Wieters (two doubles, actually blocks home plate) (26 votes)
229 total votes