This pitch might have hit the ground had Markakis not swung. It probably would've still been called a strike. (Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)
The Orioles averted a three-game sweep with some thrilling late-inning dramatics, enjoying a 3-2, 10-inning victory over the Angels to secure a winning road trip. After seven innings of lifeless O's offense, Nick Markakis delivered a go-ahead, two-out single in the eighth and then did it again in the 10th, venting his frustrations after repeated conflicts with the home plate umpire. The Birds finished 6-4 on the three-city trek, their first winning road trip of 10 or more games since 2004.
I'll get the bad news out of the way first. For the first seven innings, the Orioles' lineup (which was missing its two hottest hitters, Matt Wieters and Nolan Reimold) was totally overmatched by Angels starter Dan Haren. In those seven frames, the O's managed just four hits-- all singles-- and never more than one in an inning. And in the rare cases where they did get runners on base, the Birds bungled them away. Adam Jones was thrown out trying to steal third in the second inning, and Chris Davis (!?) tried to swipe second in the seventh, predictably also getting nailed.
Haren racked up nine strikeouts along the way. While he was dominant, he also got some help from home plate ump Angel Campos, whose fluttering strike zone was among the most ridiculous I've seen in a while. Nick Markakis in particular took exception to getting called out on strikes on a pitch a foot off the outside corner in the first. Markakis bristled through each of his at-bats until manager Buck Showalter interceded, bursting out of the dugout after another questionable strike call to Nick in the sixth. Showalter was promptly given the heave-ho.
It's a shame the O's couldn't score, because starter Wei-Yin Chen deserved better. His third start of the season was also his finest. Unexpectedly, he actually got some defensive help from his teammates. Left fielder Endy Chavez made a great running catch on the warning track to rob Albert Pujols of extra bases in the first, and third baseman Wilson Betemit showed quick reflexes in charging and throwing out speedy Peter Bourjos on a bunt attempt in the second.
Chen's only blemish came in the fourth, when Vernon Wells doubled and Alberto Callaspo plated him with a bloop single. Otherwise, Chen was very sharp. Unlike his first two outings, he didn't run out of gas in the sixth, cruising through a scoreless inning. He did, however, tire in the seventh, throwing eight straight balls with one out to end his day's work. Darren O'Day induced an inning-ending double play from the difficult-to-double-up-Bourjos, cleaning up Chen's mess. Wei-Yin allowed just one run in 6 ⅓ innings, striking out five (including Pujols twice).
It looked like the Orioles were destined for a disappointing 1-0 loss and a series sweep, but things got awesome in the eighth inning. At long last, the O's strung together a quasi-rally against Haren, thanks to one-out singles by a pinch-hitting Wieters and then Robert Andino. Haren, with his pitch count at 115, was pulled after a gem of an outing, allowing the O's to go to work against the Angels' unreliable bullpen.
Chavez looped a soft single against lefty Scott Downs to load the bases with one out. J.J. Hardy proved most un-clutch, hitting a tapper back to Downs for a forceout at the plate. But Markakis-- who hadn't driven in a run in eight games-- picked a great time to bust loose. He grounded a 2-0 pitch from Downs into the hole on the left side for a base hit. Two runs scored, with the fleet Chavez sliding home just ahead of the throw to give the O's a 2-1 lead. There we go, Nick! What a turn of events. Haren's excellent effort had gone up in smoke.
Nothing ever comes easy for the Orioles, though. No sooner had they grabbed the lead than they gave it back, with Howie Kendrick clubbing a solo homerun off Pedro Strop in the eighth to knot the score at two. Strop recovered for a scoreless ninth, as did the Angels, and it's off to extras.
LaTroy Hawkins, who pitched for the Orioles in the late 1950s, worked the top of the 10th. This time, Campos's laughable strike zone worked out in the Orioles' favor. On a 3-2 pitch to Andino, Hawkins set one right in the bottom outside corner of the strike zone. But Campos called it ball four, giving the O's a leadoff baserunner. This time it was Mike Scioscia's turn to bark at the ump, yelling something that rhymes with "Bull pit." Remind me again why we can't have robot umpires? Are we trying to preserve the "integrity" of horrendous umpiring?
Andino was sacrificed to second by Chavez. Normally bunting bothers me, but whatever, it's Endy Chavez. Andino advanced to third on a Hardy groundout, and then Markakis stepped up big again. Two pitches after another getting in Campos's face over another controversial strike call, Nick tapped a bouncer up the middle. A diving Kendrick got a glove on it but couldn't corral the ball, scoring Andino on Nick's second go-ahead hit in three innings.
This time, the lead held. Closer Jim Johnson, as is his custom, didn't have a clean performance but locked it down in the end. Pinch-hitter Kendrys Morales smashed a one-out double to put the tying run in scoring position before Johnson induced a flyout and then whiffed Kendrick to end it.
And the Orioles win! What a game this turned out to be, and a great way to end the 10-game road trip. I'll be honest-- when I started writing this recap around the seventh inning, I never expected the O's to pull this one out. It just seemed to be shaping up as one of those listless, lazy, Sunday afternoon defeats we've become all too familiar with in Birdland. I'd completely written them off. So, kudos to the Orioles for telling me to stick my pessimism where the sun don't shine.
Who was today's Most Birdland Player?
Nick Markakis (go-ahead single in 8th, go-ahead single in 10th) (413 votes)
Wei-Yin Chen (just because there needs to be a second option) (108 votes)
521 total votes