The Orioles notched their second straight win in the Windy City, hanging on for a nailbiting 3-2 decision over the White Sox. Wei-Yin Chen earned his first big-league win with five excellent innings, then was backed by stellar O's relief work after he tired in the sixth. Back-to-back homers by Nolan Reimold and J.J. Hardy put the Birds on top in the sixth, and Jim Johnson survived a bases-loaded jam in the ninth to preserve the victory.
This is my fourth recap for Camden Chat (including spring training), and in three of those four, Wei-Yin Chen has been the Orioles' starter. We're like kindred spirits. Two peas in a pod. If you ignore the fact that he's three inches taller, 70 pounds heavier, left-handed, Taiwanese, and has a modicum of athletic ability, we're practically twins!
After a mostly impressive big-league debut a week ago, Chen's encore tonight did not disappoint. He shut down the White Sox bats for the first five innings. The most grueling at-bat was probably the first one, when Alejandro de Aza-- that's Spanish for "Alejandro of Aza"-- worked a walk after a nine-pitch battle. Brent Morel followed with a sinking liner to left, but Nolan Reimold made a fantastic diving catch as he sprinted toward left-center. That nifty play short-circuited a possible rally and gave Chen his first out; he got the next two in quick succession.
Chen breezed through the second and third. The White Sox attempted a two-out rally in the fourth with a pair of singles, but Wei-Yin pounced off the mound to field a weak dribbler from Alexei Ramirez, throwing him out to strand two runners. He then needed just eight pitches to retire the side in order in the fifth. Chen's fastball had good life and he effectively mixed in his breaking pitches to keep hitters guessing.
The scoreless pitcher's duel entered the sixth inning, and then things finally got interesting. With one out in the top half, Robert Andino roped a single to center, just the Orioles' second hit. Listen-- singles are nice and everything, but we all know the O's can't score runs unless they hit dingers. So let's see some dingers!
And so we did. First up: the unstoppable force known as Nolan Reimold, who had homered in each of his last three games (all in the ninth inning). This time, he didn't wait until the last minute for his long-ball heroics. He jumped on a Danks fastball and clubbed it into the left-field seats for his fourth homerun, giving the Orioles the game's first lead, 2-0. Remember when people were writing off Reimold after he slumped for the first few games? Yeah, me neither. But wait, there's more! The very next batter, J.J. Hardy, swatted a roundtripper of his own (his third) to bump the lead to 3-0. The O's went back-to-back for the first time this year.
The Orioles' runs came just in time, because Chen ran out of gas in the bottom of the sixth. Morel led off with a single. After Chen struck out Adam Dunn (because who hasn't?), he began missing badly on his pitches, walking Paul Konerko and then uncorking a wild pitch to move both runners into scoring position. The annoying A.J. Pierzynski plated them both with a double into the right-field corner, slicing the O's lead to 3-2. Chen stayed in for one more batter, an Alex Rios single that moved Pierzynski-- the possible tying run-- to third base with just one out.
Buck Showalter, hoping for an inning-ending double play, relieved Chen with submariner Darren O'Day. Before even throwing a pitch, O'Day tried the old fake-to-third, throw-to-first pickoff move, unsuccessfully. Oh, Darren. Don't you know that never works? A runner would have to be a complete fool to fall for that. Never in a million years can you pull that off.
O'Day got a huge second out on a Ramirez pop-up, bringing up Dayan Viciedo. And then...sheer hilarity. O'Day for a second time tried the third-to-first pickoff move-- and it worked! Rios bit on the bait and took off for second, and O'Day simply threw to Andino, who placed the tag on a sheepish Rios. Oof. That was some Brett Lawrie-esque baserunning right there, bailing the Orioles out of a huge jam with the lead intact.
That officially finalized Chen's pitching line. He went 5 ⅓ innings, giving up two runs on six hits, walking two and striking out four. He threw 99 pitches. Chen looked great through five, but this was the second start in a row that he noticeably tired in the sixth. His stuff and command have looked good so far, but he needs to work on that endurance.
The O's didn't score after the sixth inning, but fortunately, the bullpen made their one-run lead stand up. O'Day worked a scoreless seventh, whiffing a flailing Morel after a two-out triple by de Aza. Troy Patton and Luis Ayala combined on a perfect eighth.
Jim Johnson came in to close the game in the ninth, and he did not make it easy, to say the least. He put all sorts of runners on base and made O's fans sweat until the final out. I'd say he was doing his best Kevin Gregg impression, except that the sight of him didn't make me sick. Johnson got started on a bad note with a leadoff walk to Rios. After Ramirez sacrificed, Viciedo hit a high-hop bouncer over the mound. Hardy tried to make a charging play, but the ball glanced off his glove and bounded away. Suddenly runners were at first and third with just one out.
Pinch-hitter Kosuke Fukudome smoked the next pitch, but fortunately directly into the glove of third baseman Wilson Betemit. Two down. Johnson got ahead in the count 0-2 to de Aza but couldn't put him away, ultimately walking him to load the bases. JJ, what are you doing to us?
It all came down to Morel. He tapped a soft grounder toward third that looked like trouble, especially considering the inability of O's third basemen to play defense. Infield hit for sure, right? No! Betemit made a surprisingly excellent play, rushing in to field a short hop and then firing a perfect throw to first on the run. Ballgame over. The Orioles survive. I'm pretty sure Mark Reynolds wouldn't have made that play. Kudos, Wilson. And kudos, Wei-Yin Chen, for putting your first major-league win in the books. Hope it's the first of many for my long-lost twin.