Tonight the Orioles faced James Shields, who pitched maybe the best game against the Orioles that has been pitched all season. Shields was on fire pretty much the entire night, and he made just one mistake. Fortunately for the Orioles, that was one more mistake than their starter, Miguel Gonzalez made. The result was a tense pitchers' duel that turned out in the O's favor.
It was clear from the get go that both pitchers were on top of their games tonight. Shields needed only eleven pitches to retire the side 1-2-3, and Gonzalez responded in the bottom of the inning by striking out the side. Through the first three innings, the only baserunner for either side was Evan Longoria, who singled in the second.
It was in the top of the fourth inning that the only run of the game scored, and wouldn't you know, it was on a home run by Chris Davis. And while most of his homers aren't cheap shots, this one was an absolute bomb. Baseball Nation GIF'd it up, so check it out if you didn't see it live (or even if you did, because it is worth another look). Davis has now homered in six consecutive games, tying the Orioles franchise record.
After that blip in the radar, Shields went right back to being awesome. The only other hit he allowed was in the sixth inning, a two-out single by Nate McLouth. Ultimately Shields pitched a complete game and took the loss thanks to the Davis bomb. He made the O's hitters look silly as he ended up with fifteen strikeouts on the day. He was fantastic.
Gonzalez wasn't quite a awe inspiring as Shields tonight, but ultimately he was more effective, and that's what counts in the standings. Through 6 1/3 innings, Gonzalez allowed just two hits of his own, along with two walks and seven strikeouts. Both hits were singles, and no Rays got past second base against him.
Watching MiGo pitch this season has really been a pleasure. I don't know how long he'll be able to keep this up, but he has blossomed into a very solid pitcher. What fantastic pickup by Dan Duquette.
After Gonzalez got Jeff Keppinger to fly out to start the seventh inning, Buck Showalter went to his bullpen. Brian Matusz finished the seventh, Darren O'Day was his usual shutdown self in a perfect eighth, and Jim Johnson worked around a one-out walk to Ben Zobrist to record his 51st save of the year.
Unfortunately tonight, after leading the Yankees for most of the game, the Red Sox fell to the Yankees in 12 innings. The best the Orioles can do now is a tie for first place if they win tomorrow and the Yankees lose. But while they can't control what happens with the Yankees, the fact is that if they win tomorrow, they will have a home playoff game no matter what. And that is awesome.