I’m shocked-- SHOCKED, I say-- that the O’s are finding it more difficult to beat the Yankees than the Twins.
The Orioles suffered a painful defeat to the Yankees, 5-4, in an interminable 4-hour, 38-minute, 12-inning affair. A game that seemed to be going the Orioles' way for the first half took an ugly turn in a mistake-prone sixth inning, as the O's frittered away a three-run lead and then stopped hitting for the rest of the night. The Birds wasted a valiant effort by six pitchers with a shoddy defensive display and an 0-for-8 mark with runners in scoring position.
Tonight marked the major-league debut of lefty Wei-Yin Chen-- a fact that didn't go unnoticed by his home country, judging by the army of Taiwanese reporters who descended on Camden Yards for the occasion. Chen is just the fourth native of Taiwan ever to start a game in the major leagues, and his outing was broadcast live at 7 in the morning in his homeland. So to any Taiwanese readers who have stumbled upon this recap, may I say: [Note to self: Find a Taiwanese phrase to copy and paste here. Don't forget to do this before publishing.]
Chen's debut didn't exactly get off to a sizzling start. The very first big-league batter he faced, Derek Jeter, crushed a leadoff homerun to straightaway center field. Oof. The next hitter, Nick Swisher, smashed another blast to nearly the same spot, this one banging off the wall for a double. Robinson Cano, too, jumped on another hanger and lifted it deep to center, but this time Adam Jones was able to track it down for an out. So Chen's first three batters went: a deep fly over the wall, a deep fly off the wall, and a deep fly caught in front of the wall. At least you're gradually moving in the right direction, Wei-Yin!
In fact, Chen improved almost immediately, and strung together a bunch of nice innings in a row. He stranded two runners in the first, getting another flyout followed by a nasty slider to fan Curtis Granderson. That began a streak of 12 batters in a row retired by Chen, with half of them on strikeouts. He began mixing his pitches much more effectively and keeping the ball down, stymieing the Yankees with a low-90s fastball along with a curveball at 73-74 mph and a changeup at 83 to go with his sharp slider. That first-inning misstep aside, it wasn't hard to see why the 26-year-old Chen was so highly touted in Japan. I am officially intrigued.
Meanwhile, the Orioles quickly answered back against Yankees starter Freddy Garcia. Orioles batters really didn't need to do anything but stand around and watch Garcia self-destruct-- that is, when they weren't jackknifing out of the way of his ridiculously off-target offerings. To say he was wild would be an understatement.
Garcia did groove one fat pitch in the first inning, and J.J. Hardy crushed it into the left-field seats for his second homerun, tying the score at 1. After that, Garcia couldn't find the plate. He allowed a walk, a single, and the uncorked two consecutive wild pitches with Nick Johnson at bat, one of which nearly shaved off Nick's horrendous mustache. That plated Nick Markakis to give the O's a 2-1 lead. Garcia labored through 35 pitches in the inning, and it wasn't the last time he'd struggle.
In the fourth, Jones ripped a double on the first pitch, and Garcia promptly bounced another wild pitch to move him to third. A Matt Wieters walk put runners at the corners. Johnson then tapped a grounder to first; Mark Teixeira fielded and stepped on first, then threw to second. With the force play off, Wieters wisely got himself caught in a rundown, allowing Jones to take off for the plate. Jeter fired home, but catcher Russell Martin dropped the ball and Adam dove past him to score. Later in the inning, Garcia threw his FOURTH wild pitch, but it didn't hurt him.
The Yanks made some noise in the fifth with a pair of one-out singles, but Chen retired Jeter and Swisher to escape the jam, with third baseman Mark Reynolds making a nice diving stop to rob a hit. Garcia wasn't so lucky. With Robert Andino at third, he uncorked his FIFTH WILD PITCH of the game to plate the run. Incredible. Garcia only threw four wild pitches in the entire 2011 season, and then surpassed that total here in his first outing of 2012. He's the first pitcher in 23 years to throw five wild pitches in a game. Garcia was pulled without finishing the fifth.
The Orioles carried a 4-1 lead to the top of the sixth with Chen cruising. What could possibly go wrong?! Well, it's the Orioles, so...quite a bit. Chen began to tire, loading the bases with one out on a pair of singles and a walk. Then, the Orioles' defense self-destructed. Andruw Jones lifted a fly ball to medium-deep right field. Markakis should have had plenty of time to get a running start, make the catch, and put his momentum into a strong throw to the plate. Instead, he inexplicably caught the ball flat-footed with no head of steam, then lobbed a terrible hopping throw home that the runner beat for the Yankees' second run. C'mon, Nick. You're usually better than that.
Mark Reynolds, however, isn't. The noted defensive butcher picked a terrible time for his latest miscue. Chen should've been out of the inning on a Martin sharp bouncer to third, but Reynolds was handcuffed by a short hop and let the ball clank off his body for a critical error. Teixeira scored to cut the O's lead to 4-3. We kept hearing how hard Reynolds worked on improving his defense this past offseason. When do you think we might, you know, see some actual results?
Even with Chen at 100 pitches, Buck Showalter left him in to face the lefty-swinging Brett Gardner. Gardner ripped the first pitch into right field for a game-tying RBI single. That's a back-breaker. And with that, Chen's debut was finished. A rough start and a rough finish, but he was great in the middle. In 5 ⅔ innings, he gave up four runs, but only two earned. His teammates let him down in that final inning, and Buck left him in a couple batters too long. Matt Lindstrom spared him from further damage, getting Jeter to ground out to strand two in the sixth.
Then nobody scored for a long, long time. It wasn't for lack of opportunities, though. In the top of the seventh, Swisher was awarded first base on a hit-by-pitch, despite the fact that, #1, he swung at the pitch, and #2, the ball might not have even hit him. Typical Yankee shenanigans. Still, it all worked out OK. Cano followed with a double down the left-field line, but the O's pulled off a perfect relay-- Chavez-to-Hardy-to-Wieters-- to throw out Swisher trying to score. A thing of beauty! Lindstrom then struck out two batters to strand Cano at second.
Lindstrom was the first of several impressive Orioles relievers. Luis Ayala worked a scoreless eighth with two strikeouts, and Jim Johnson stranded Jeter after a leadoff single in the ninth. Unfortunately for the Orioles, the Yanks' bullpen was equally effective. Rookie David Phelps retired all seven batters he faced, racking up four strikeouts against an increasingly hapless O's offense. David Robertson handled a scoreless eighth.
The Orioles wasted a golden opportunity to walk off with a win in the ninth. Pinch-hitter Nolan Reimold led off with a weak grounder that squirted into right field for a single. Reynolds popped out, but Chris Davis singled into right field. The ball was hit slowly enough that I thought Nolan should've been able to get to third, but he slammed on the brakes after rounding second. A Robert Andino fielder's choice put runners at the corners with two outs. The Yankees decided to intentionally walk Chavez to face Hardy, which is nonsensical, even with righty Cory Wade on the mound. But it paid off for them. An overaggressive J.J. hacked at the second pitch and popped out harmlessly to short, leaving the bases loaded. Sigh. And we're on to extra innings.
Troy Patton mowed through a perfect 10th, and Pedro Strop worked past a leadoff walk to keep the Yankees off the board in the 11th. But the Orioles' offense still couldn't do anything. Wade struck out two in the 10th, then combined with ex-Oriole Clay Rapada on a 1-2-3 11th inning. The O's managed a grand total of 6 hits in this 12-inning game. Not gonna get it done, guys.
The madness came to an end in the 12th, with the Orioles unsurprisingly on the losing end. Strop, working his second inning, gave up a leadoff double to Cano off the glove of a leaping Reynolds. The potential go-ahead run then moved to third on a groundout. Reynolds suffered another embarrassing lapse when, on a Teixeira foul pop-up near third base, he somehow lost track of the ball and let it fall behind him, giving away a huge out. It didn't end up mattering-- Teixeira was retired on a bouncer to second, with Cano holding at third-- but it added yet more ammunition for the "Move Mark Reynolds off of third base" crowd.
With two outs and Cano still at third, Showalter decided to intentionally walk the dangerous Granderson to pitch to the 800-year-old Raul Ibanez. It was a fine idea, until Strop hung a terrible slider on a 1-2 pitch and Ibanez clubbed it for an RBI double that hopped over the right-field wall. With that, the Yankees had taken a 5-4 lead.
That's all they would need for ageless closer Mariano Rivera, who set down the Orioles in perfect order in the 12th. And sure, there were a few questionable strike calls by erratic home plate ump Tim Welke-- whose strike zone was inconsistent all night-- but it's hard to put blame on the umpiring when the Orioles had dozens of chances to win this game and couldn't take advantage. Let's hope this game isn't a harbinger of the season to come.