The Orioles brought their winning ways back to Baltimore, edging the Blue Jays, 2-1, in a well-pitched duel. The margin of victory was provided by a Matt Wieters homerun that was inadvertently deflected into the stands by Jays left fielder Eric Thames. Starter Tommy Hunter and a Jim-Johnson-less bullpen took it the rest of the way to notch the Birds' 10th win.
You know, Tommy Hunter is sort of an odd breed. He keeps getting raves from his manager and his teammates that he's a "bulldog" and a leader and a fighter...but then you watch him pitch and you kind of wonder how he ever gets anyone out. Tonight was one of those games. Hunter seemed to be living dangerously high in the strike zone for most of the night, but the Jays rarely took advantage. Even in the first inning, Hunter had trouble putting batters away-- he retired the side in order, but needed 20 pitches to do so. He threw 18 more in a scoreless second.
The Orioles grabbed a first-inning lead, though it ended up being kind of a wasted opportunity. The first three batters of the game reached base against Blue Jays starter Henderson Alvarez, loading the bases with nobody out. But Adam Jones, on a 2-0 count, hacked at a slider and bounced it to short for a 6-4-3 double play. A run scored, but a chance for a bigger rally was essentially snuffed. The O's never again put more than one runner on base in an inning.
Back to Hunter, who was burned by one of his hanging pitches in the third. Eric Thames absolutely demolished a homerun to right field, parking it onto Eutaw Street for the 58th such blast in Camden Yards history. It was the seventh homerun allowed by Hunter in just four starts this season, and his fifth surrendered to the Blue Jays. At least all have been solo shots.
An inning later, Thames again played a prominent role in a homerun-- except he wasn't the guy hitting it. With one out, Matt Wieters swatted a deep fly to left field. Thames, on his horse, raced back to the wall and timed his leap to attempt a stupendous catch...except that the ball glanced off his glove as he jumped and deflected into the seats for a homerun. Had Thames not touched the ball, it likely would've bounced off the top of the wall and stayed in play. Thank you very much, Eric Thames! I'm so appreciative for your efforts, I'll stop calling you "Marcus."
And...that's it for the runs tonight. The Orioles had a 2-1 lead, and the game would ultimately end by that score. For that, we can thank an excellent effort by five Orioles pitchers. Hunter continued to battle his way through one scoreless inning after another, issuing a couple of walks in his final two innings but escaping unscathed. He delivered a quality start when all was said and done, allowing just one run in six innings while throwing 103 pitches, even though he didn't have great command. Let the superlatives flow. He's gritty! Gutty! Gutsy! Gritsy!
The Orioles were without the services of closer Jim Johnson tonight, as he was hospitalized with the flu. Happily, the rest of the bullpen picked up the slack tonight. Lefty Troy Patton got two outs in the seventh, and Darren O'Day retired the only batter he faced, Jeff Mathis (talk about an easy assignment). Luis Ayala tossed a scoreless eighth, working past a two-out single.
With Johnson out, Orioles fans wondered who would get the chance to close out the game in the ninth. Kevin Gregg was quickly dismissed as a possibility, because Buck Showalter doesn't hate us. The two candidates were Matt Lindstrom-- who has previous closing experience with a few clubs-- and top setup man Pedro Strop. In the ninth, we got our answer: Strop jogged in from the bullpen for his first career save opportunity. And he nailed it down without too much trouble. He began the inning with a strikeout of Adam Lind, and-- after a one-out walk-- he rebounded to retire the last two hitters, punctuated by a game-ending strikeout of Thames. Well done, Pedro! His first career save capped nine innings of one-run, five-hit ball by Orioles pitchers. It almost never comes this easily, but we'll gladly take it.