They always say that chicks dig the long ball, and if that's so, then tonight was a night for the chicks. Despite playing in a sterile, wind-free dome environment, there were seven home runs on the game, all solo shots. Three of these were hit by the Orioles and four by the Blue Jays. For a while, the game was looking like whoever would hit the last home run would be the winner, but the O's scratched out enough other runs to overcome the home run gap to take a 7-5 victory in the opening game of the series.
Maybe there's something about that Canadian air. Or maybe it was just a couple of pitchers who weren't that sharp, playing hitters who were ready to crush baseballs a long way. Whatever it was, both teams seemed to benefit from it tonight. From Kelly Johnson in the bottom of the first inning to Nolan Reimold in the top of the ninth, the balls flew out of there. On the MASN broadcast, Jim Hunter kept talking about how the ball was carrying, which I mocked, because it's not like there's a breeze in the dome, but maybe there's something else. Or who knows, maybe the ball gets caught in a jet stream of heating and air conditioning.
On a night where Tommy Hunter was the O's starter, the prospect of a home run fest probably didn't seem too positive. Hunter, a contact pitcher, would seem to be at a disadvantage against Jays starter Brandon Morrow, a strikeout pitcher, in a game of home runs. O's batters were up to the task, though, trading home runs with the Jays through the first six innings.
Hunter gave up six hits in his six innings of work, but four of them were the home run balls. Fortunately, they were all solo home runs. An unearned run was added to his total thanks to a mess of a play by Nolan Reimold in the 4th inning, a two-base error that was compounded by a poor throw that allowed a runner to score. Hunter was chased after walking the leadoff hitter in the top of the 7th, with a final line of five runs, four earned, on six hits, with two strikeouts and two walks. He had only thrown 84 pitches. Perhaps he ought to have gone longer, but after watching the four bombs, it's hard to argue with a change.
This is going to be the Tommy Hunter experience. He won't strike out a lot of guys, and so there will be a lot of contact, and sometimes that contact will go a long way when there is a cutter that doesn't cut, or a slider that doesn't slide. Some nights this will happen, and the O's offense won't be on target, and he will lose. Other nights it will happen and the O's will score runs and he will win.
When Robert Andino is crushing balls to straight-away center field, though, you have to wonder if maybe there is something funny in the air. They might not have won the home run race, but there was more offensive output to bridge the gap.
Reimold made up for his error with a 3-5 night that included a home run of his own, and three runs scored. That's a good night. He is hitting .308 on the young season, which sounds good, although he hasn't walked yet, which is not so good for a leadoff hitter. The other O's home runs were hit by Andino and Adam Jones, who had a three-hit night of his own.
Each time the O's chipped up a run off Morrow - who had a 10+ K/9 last year but only struck out four Orioles tonight - they were soon after equalized by the Jays, who had home runs from Johnson, Colby Rasmus, Yunel Escobar, and Edwin Encarnacion. Strangely, on a night of home runs, none of them were hit by two-time reigning home run world champion Jose Bautista.
The O's entered the top of the 8th with a 5-4 deficit, and you had to wonder if they were going to score again. Reimold led off with a single, then J.J. Hardy struck out against Toronto reliever Jason Frasor. The Toronto bullpen had four lefties on the night, so they summoned the venerable Darren Oliver to face Nick Markakis. Nolan must have felt feisty, because he swiped second, and Markakis moved him over to third in the process of beating out an infield single. Jones followed this up with a slapdick kind of moment, striking out, but Matt Wieters walked to load the bases, and then Wilson Betemit stepped up to the plate.
If I could trash an Orioles player in a given game thread and know that player was going to come through with the go-ahead runs, I'd trash people every night. I do not have that power. Betemit was the target of my ire tonight, because all indications are that he's worse at third base than Mark Reynolds. He had a couple of chances tonight, made a couple of questionable throws that Chris Davis corralled in time, and that was that. Then he came up to bat in the top of the 8th, his team down to four outs, and came through with a ground ball up the middle that you would call a worm burner in a baseball stadium that actually had grass.
After Hunter left the game, the Orioles initiated Operation No Crappy Relievers, with Darren O'Day stranding the inherited runner in the 7th, Pedro Strop sealing a scoreless 8th and Jim Johnson picking up his third save of the year with a scoreless 9th.
With the win, the Orioles raised their record to 4-3, and brought themselves back up into a tie for first place in the American League East, following an earlier Tampa Bay loss. Whether or not chicks dig the long ball, they certainly dig the Orioles in first place.