In the bottom of the first inning, the Orioles offense went three-up, three-down against Blue Jays starter Brandon Morrow, with two nasty strikeouts. "Oh, great," we all thought, "we're about to rack up like twenty Ks." Perhaps that pessimism is a defense mechanism against being disappointed. Whatever the case, it occasionally leads to pleasant surprises like tonight, where the O's racked up twelve runs on sixteen hits, including four doubles and four home runs. The frenzied storm of offense led the team to a 12-4 victory and every starter recorded at least one base hit.
The star of the night was Derrek Lee, who went 4-5 with a double and a home run. I've been the one blowing the whistle on the Lee hate train, so I've got to give him credit for having himself a great game here. It's good to see from Lee. That doesn't mean we should get carried away like MASN's Steve Melewski and start tweeting about how Lee's RBIs over the past 15 games means that his trade value is rising. After this game of the year material, Lee's batting line is .246/.299/.399.
If there was one downer to take out of the game, though, it was the performance of Jake Arrieta. He did the typical Arrieta thing, letting the first two batters of the game reach before getting out of the jam he'd gotten into. Jake had to throw 18 pitches though, and ultimately left after only five innings with 103 pitches thrown. Most of the damage was done by home run, with Adam Lind teeing off in the 3rd inning with two men on base for his 19th home run of the year, and Aaron Hill hitting his 5th of the year, a bases empty drive in the 4th. Since he made it through the 5 inning minimum and left with the O's leading 10-4, he gets his 10th win of the year even as his ERA now sits at 5.12. Jeremy Guthrie wonders where the justice is in the world.
Jake also had a very scary moment in the bottom of the 3rd. With home run leader Jose Bautista at the plate - slugging a cool .680 - he reared back to get a little extra on a fastball and lost control of the pitch. The ball flew high and inside, right towards Bautista's head. Bautista couldn't do much except turn his head away and try to get as much helmet in the way as he could. I think the ball ended up hitting the ear part of the helmet, but Bautista went down and stayed down for a few moments. He was removed from the game for precautionary reasons. I hope he's okay.
The play looked very scary live. You could tell Jake was upset about it too. He was down on his knees while Bautista was on the ground and he looked pained. The Lind home run was the next batter after this and I wouldn't be surprised if Jake was shaken up a bit.
Four runs in five innings isn't a great night, but the O's offense and bullpen conspired to have a good night, so it was enough for tonight.
Five Orioles batters cashed in on the hit parade with a multi-hit game, with Lee being joined by two-hit efforts from J.J. Hardy (both home runs, his 15th and 16th), Adam Jones, Nolan Reimold (including a double and a home run, his 6th of the year). Not long after seeing nights where the O's get 4 runs on 17 hits, it was good to see people actually, you know, driving in runners.
Hardy gets some extra credit for being a count-working machine. In his five plate appearances he saw a total of 33 pitches. Small wonder that two of those pitches were the ones he was looking to drive, and drive them he did. On the other end of that spectrum was Vladimir Guerrero (surprise!) who got a second-inning single in his return to the lineup and then bupkis in his other four at-bats. He only saw a total of nine pitches.
Some good news for Arrieta is that he only walked two men, with four strikeouts to balance that out. It's not horrible. The five hits wouldn't be too bad either if it wasn't for two of them being home runs. Say this about Jake, though: even when he struggles, he at least does enough to look like he should stay up in the big leagues. That's better than we can say about his fellow cavalrymen.
An uncharacteristically strong bullpen performance capped off the game for the O's. With Arrieta leaving after five, grim scenarios surely played through heads across Birdland. Who ever wants to see four innings of one of the worst bullpens in MLB? Jason Berken got the job done for three scoreless innings, though, not allowing any runs even though the Jays loaded the bases in the 6th. Mark Hendrickson added a perfect ninth to seal the win.
Berken now sports a 4.93 ERA, and Hendrickson's is 5.14. Yikes. Still, they did what they needed to do tonight, saving the better relievers for the remainder of this series and the tough weekend coming up.
The three-game series continues tomorrow evening. Alfredo Simon will be on the mound for the O's, looking to continue his surprise string of quality starts. He'll need to if the O's want to have a chance, because his counterpart for Toronto is Ricky Romero, who's no slouch in 2011 with a 3.27 ERA and 117 strikeouts over his 134.2 IP. A win for the Orioles would mark their first consecutive victories in Toronto since June 6-7, 2008.