If I told you at the beginning of the season that at the end of play on August 2, the Orioles would only have one starter with an ERA below 4.00, what would have been your reaction? If I asked you to guess which starter that was, how many guesses do you think it would have taken before you gave the correct answer of Alfredo Simon? This is where we are, though. With seven strong innings tonight, Simon brought his ERA below 4. He surrendered only one run during this game and finished with 3.83. We probably shouldn't get carried away; it was only his fifth start and he's only thrown 30 innings as a starter this year. Still, his ERA would be even lower if you removed his relief appearances.
Simon gave up four hits, walked one, struck out three and didn't allow a run after the first inning. Even more to his credit, on a night where the temperature at first pitch was 107 degrees, Simon threw 106 pitches and looked about as good in his last inning as he did in any other. If Simon is able to come close to pitching like this regularly, the Orioles may have had an unexpected, unlooked-for starter emerge from the pack.
In un-Orioles fashion, tonight the O's got runs early and kept adding on runs through to late. They scored in four different innings, including a four-run ninth. In all, they got eight runs on twelve hits. Multi-hit games came from J.J. Hardy, Chris Davis (his first two hits as an Oriole), Robert Andino and Mark Reynolds (three hits, including a three-run monster bomb in the 9th - his 24th of the year), and Nick Markakis added a hit and two walks.
Who would have thought that good things happen when you chase a starter early in a game? Royals starter and former Birdland jokester Bruce Chen had gotten up to 115 pitches in 4.2 IP. He issued four walks to O's hitters and wasn't doing much of fooling people with the soft-tossing stuff, giving up seven hits and three earned runs. Chen exited with a 3-1 deficit, thanks to a two-run double by Reynolds in the 4th and an RBI infield single in the 5th by Davis.
The game was a good one for the newly-acquired Orioles. Davis added his first home run as an Oriole with a solo shot in the 9th that left the score at the 8-2 margin where it would remain. Tommy Hunter appeared in relief, pitching the 8th inning. While a run scored in the inning, he wasn't exactly being smacked around. A bloop hit to left put Alex Gordon on first base, then Melky Cabrera singled through the hole opened up from holding Gordon, who went from first-to-third on the play - team speed is a radical concept.
The next batter was Billy Butler, who hit a soft liner to right. It was one of those balls that should have never been deep enough to score a runner on past years' versions of Nick Markakis, but in 2011 it means a run scores. Markakis fielded the ball clean and launched a throw in the general direction of home plate, but it wasn't going to land anywhere near Matt Wieters and was cut off. So, that's an earned run against Hunter. It could be worse, though. He was throwing some serious cheese and it's quite possible his next appearance will be from the rotation.
Another amazing thing is that good things happen when your starter pitches 7 innings. The end of the game looks a lot shorter. And it gets even less stressful when the offense adds on runs in the 9th so there's no need for our save-soaker to make an appearance. Instead, Chris Jakubauskas appeared in the garbage time situation and had a drama-free 9th, with two strikeouts.
All in all, for one night at least, the O's actually looked like a competent baseball team. After the hellish Saturday and Sunday in New York, it was easy to forget what that felt like. Maybe it will turn out that a series against the Royals is just what the O's needed to get settled in with the new look and turn things around a bit. They will be helped in this endeavor because tomorrow they will face Luke Hochevar, who's sporting a 5.15 ERA. Jeremy Guthrie takes the mound for the Orioles, and if he turns in a strong start, maybe he, too, can join the sub-4.00 starter club.
For tonight, though, the only member of that club is Simon, and he earned his place in it. We can only hope he'll be remaining there with more strong starts in the future.