The Orioles were already leading 2-0 before Jason Hammel threw a pitch, but that wasn't enough to stave off the feelings that this might be a long day. Hammel struggled through the first inning, having to throw nearly 30 pitches to get the first three outs of the game. Dire scenarios began to play out in one's head, an abbreviated starter outing leading to a game full of bullpen roulette, especially when it took Hammel another 30 pitches to get through the 3rd inning. He battled, showing the kind of guts we loved in the man Hammel was traded for, ultimately going 6 innings on the day, only surrendering two runs. It wasn't enough for an easy win, but it was enough for a win.
There were quiet bats for the O's last night. They woke up today, or at least some of them did. Adam Jones did much of the heavy lifting. He was, in fact, the only Oriole to record an RBI while not also recording an out. Jones' first inning double off Gavin Floyd was the first score of the game, and he followed that up with a two-run home run in the fifth inning. Why did Floyd pitch to Jones when the hitless Nick Johnson (now 0-20 on the season) was behind him on deck? No one really knows, but Floyd hung a pitch out over the plate, and Jones did what he does to mistake pitches and launched the pitch out into the left field bleachers. At the time, that put the Orioles ahead 5-2, which would prove to be all the runs they would need.
Why was the game a wild ride? Though Hammel allowed only the two runs, his trouble innings saw a lot of men on base. In the six innings he pitched, he sent the White Sox hitters down 1-2-3 in three of them, but he allowed six hits and three walks on the day, so they were squeezed into a short period.
The bottom of the first inning saw the Sox load the bases before Alexei Ramirez grounded out to end the inning, and the bases were loaded again in the third, with two runs already having scored. In the third, there was only one out, but Hammel followed this up by getting strikeouts of Dayan Viciedo and Tyler Flowers. He would strike out ten Sox batters in his six innings.
Orioles fans have seen our share of games where the wheels completely fall off once the starter gets into situations like that. To some extent, we saw this last night. For Hammel to battle through these difficult innings and make it through 6 with a 108 pitch outing was a nice sign. The White Sox aren't exactly as stacked for their lineup as a team like the Rangers or the Yankees, but this win counts in the standings just as much as wins against those other teams.
Hammel yielded in the 7th to Matt Lindstrom, the other part of the Guthrie trade. O's relievers kept fans on the edge of their seats.
Lindstrom opened up the 7th inning with a walk of Alejandro De Aza. The sinking feeling crept in again. You could imagine him continuing to be unable to throw strikes, or, perhaps, trying to compensate, leaving a ball right out over the middle of the plate. He struck out Brent Lillibridge, then got a little help from his catcher. During this half-inning, a batter fouled a ball that struck O's catcher Ronny Paulino (day game after a night game, you know) in his bare hand. A ball bounced in the dirt and Paulino blocked it, but it landed just next to him and he didn't see it right away. De Aza decided to test the hurt hand. Paulino grabbed the ball and fired a strike to second, where De Aza was tagged out. Lindstrom struck out Adam Dunn for good measure.
Pedro Strop came on for the 8th and kept things interesting. He, too, issued a leadoff walk. Throw strikes, Honey Badger! The next batter was Alex Rios, who grounded a double through the hole between 1B and 2B. Hang on, what? One CC commenter remarked that Nick Markakis "looked like a grandpa running for that ball"; Rios took the extra base and was not punished for it, with Markakis not making a strong throw. As my podcasting partner-in-crime would say, I think that's gonna cost Nick some negative runs. So, Strop had runners on second and third and the tying run up to the plate. He showed how he can be a cool customer, unfazed by a run scoring on a groundout by Ramirez. Strop left Viciedo looking helpless as he dropped a beautiful breaking pitch for a strikeout, and he got Flowers flailing pathetically to end the inning.
Jim Johnson pitched the 9th. He did not walk the leadoff batter. In fact, he started things off by retiring the first two hitters. That was when life got interesting. Johnson walked pinch-hitter A.J. Pierzynski, gave up a single to Dunn, and then hit Konerko with a pitch. Oh no! Bases loaded! We've seen how this movie ends before, and it's probably going to repeat itself: walk-off grand slam. Rios stood and watched as he was rung up on strikes to end the game. The play was a bit more hectic than it sounds from that last sentence: Paulino appeared to be crossed up by a breaking pitch. Though it was right in the middle of the plate, it bounced out of Paulino's glove as plate umpire Jerry Meals called the third strike. Rios feebly protested, and meanwhile Paulino retrieved the ball and tagged him out, completing the putout and ending the game.
Was this another game that a different Orioles team - perhaps lesser - of past years would have lost? There were a number of inflection points in the game where events may have careened into some disastrous outcome, but they fought off the doom. Pitching was shaky but not terrible. The starting pitcher battled to get through six innings. Three successive relievers held the line. Five runs on eight hits was enough, as it should be enough.
In the end, the O's picked up their eighth win of the year in taking the third game of the series from Chicago. They can head off to Anaheim feeling confident in their ability to win games. Will that be enough? Who knows? Momentum is your next day's starter, and that's Brian Matusz, who is not exactly a bastion of stability. The starting pitching matchup is a rematch from what was the most 2011 Orioles loss, with Jerome Williams starting for the team that makes its home somewhere near the Pacific Ocean in Southern California. Los Angeles has stumbled out of the gate, 4-8 entering today's play, but they probably see the O's as a chance to right the ship.
Wouldn't it be sweet to go in there and disabuse them of the notion? We will begin to find out if the Orioles can do this tomorrow at 10:05pm.