The Orioles won a game today. There were no outfielders falling on their faces, no pulling ahead in extra innings only to blow it with errors and bases-loaded walks, no starting pitchers who couldn't get out of the first inning. Two teams, neither of which are very good, played a game in which they looked relatively evenly matched, only the Orioles did a few more things right and caught a few breaks. It's the kind of game that other teams see all the time, but here in Birdland, after the disgrace that has been this season, they are few and far between.
Zach Britton, who was activated from the disabled list before tonight's game, had his ups and downs, but he made it through five innings and gave up only run, keeping the Twins down so that the Orioles could take the lead. After two quick innings to start the game, Britton gave up his only run in the third, althoug he was lucky it was only one. He retired the first batter, but then gave up a single to Ben Revere and double to the left-center gap by Trevor Plouffe. That brought Joe Mauer to the plate, who hit a ground ball to J.J. Hardy for the second out of the inning. Revere scored on the play, but it was definitely worth trading the run for the out.
With Plouffe on third and two outs, Britton was almost out of the inning. He couldn't put either of the next two batters away, though, as both Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel worked full counts into walks. With the bases loaded, Jim Thome came to the plate. I thought I knew what was going to happen (so did you. It's ok). But he didn't hit a grand slam, he just flied out to Nolan Reimold in left. Phew! Britton got out of the inning with minimal damage on the scoreboard but it really killed his pitch count since he needed thirty-two pitches to get all three outs.
Britton got into more trouble in the fifth inning and again threw a ton of pitches. After a leadoff single by Plouffe, Mauer grounded back to Britton, who started a 1-6-3 double play. It looked like he might have a fast inning thanks to that, but sadly he did not. Cuddyer doubled to keep the inning going, then Britton walked Kubel for the second time. Britton again put himself in the position of having to face Thome with runners on, but again Britton prevailed, this time with a strikeout.
Britton's final line was 5 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 4 BB, 4 K. There were positives to be taken from his day, but he walked four batters and couldn't be efficient with his pitches. That's four walks to a team that is as bad as Orioles at taking walks. If he'd been nibbling like that to a more patient team he would have been in real trouble.
The O's offense scored solo runs in the third, fifth, sixth, and seventh innings. After Twins starter Carl Pavano pitched two perfect innings to start the game, the bottom of the O's order gave him trouble in the third. Robert Andino led off with a single to center, then stole second base. Nolan "Gazelle" Reimold then hit a ball softly down the third base line and beat it out for an infield single. Newly promoted Ryan Adams singled right back up the middle to knock in Andino.
Then something weird happened. With runners on first and second with no outs, J.J. Hardy bunted. He sacrificed bunted. It seemed totally insane and fingers in the gamethread immediately pointed to Buck. In his post game interview, however, Showalter said that J.J. took it upon himself to bunt because he was being a team player. Sigh. Anyway, the bunt was successful in that it moved the runners up, but it was unsuccessful in that it took away a chance for Hardy to get a hit and it resulted in an out. Predictably, Nick Markakis and Adam Jones could not capitalize on their RISP at-bats, and the Orioles settled for one run.
In the fifth inning, Hardy came up to bat again. Thankfully there were two outs and no one on base for him to bunt over, so instead he hit a home run. It was Hardy's 24th HR on the year in just his 95th game. The funny thing is that Hardy could have been out two pitches earlier, as he popped a ball into foul territory. First baseman Joe Mauer had a play right at the fence, but a fan got in the way and he couldn't catch it. Thanks, random Twins fan! That extended J.J.'s AB long enough for him to homer.
Matt Wieters followed Hardy's lead in the sixth inning, popping a home run of his own. Matt also homered in yesterday's loss, so it's nice to see him go on a little power surge. Keep it up, Matt! The O's scored their final run in the seventh inning when Markakis doubled in Hardy, who had walked.
Britton may have only lasted five innings, but he was able to hand over a three-run lead to the bullpen. Chris Jakubauskas pitched a perfect sixth inning and got two outs in the seventh before he got himself into trouble by giving up back-to-back hits to Mauer and Cuddyer. Mike Gonzalez came on to rescue him and struck out Kubel to end the inning.
Gonzalez was actually very effective tonight. He pitched the eighth inning as well and struck out the side. Four batters, four strikeouts. Not too shabby for Gonzo.
With a three-run lead going into the 9th, Buck turned to his closer. Yes, that's right, Kevin Gregg. But proving that the sun shines on a dog's butt every now and then, or that blind squirrel finds a nut, or that a broken clock is right twice a day or whatever, Gregg pitched an easy 1-2-3 inning.
O's win, and in relatively pain-free fashion! I enjoy when that happens.