In today's pre-game show, Rick Dempsey stated, in his eternal wisdom, that if every Oriole pitcher can go out and pitch as well as Jake Arrieta did yesterday (7 IP, 2 H, 0 R), then the Orioles would have a chance to be decent this year. That Uncle Rick sure knows his stuff! At any rate, Tommy Hunter went out tonight and did pretty much exactly what Rick said the Orioles would need to be decent and whaddya know, they won!
It wasn't only Hunter who manhandled the Twins tonight, though. The offense lit up Twins starter Francisco Liriano for six runs in four innings, then for good measure tacked on two more against the bullpen. It was more than Hunter and the bullpen needed and the O's cruised to an easy 8-2 win and a 2-0 record on the season.
With a lefty on the mound tonight, Buck Showalter sent out what seemed at first to be a curious lineup. It's no secret that neither Chris Davis nor Wilson Betemit can hit lefties, so in their place Showalter put Nick Johnson at first base and at DH he went with....Ronny Paulino? The back up catcher? A glance at Paulino's stats show that in his career he's hit .330/.385/.475. Well then, makes sense to give him a try. And Paulino certainly rewarded Buck for putting him in the lineup, going 4-for-4 with a double.
After the first inning, it looked like it was going to be a long night for the O's at the plate as Liriano struck out Nolan Reimold, J.J. Hardy, and Nick Markakis. Liriano can be a tough lefty, and he looked the part at the start of the game. Luckily for us it didn't last.
The second inning got started with a blast as Adam Jones sent a ball to right field that carried well into the seats. Matt Wieters followed that with a walk and it looked like the O's were cooking, but a soul-crushing strikeout from Mark Reynolds and double play ball from Johnson snuffed the rally.
Paulino singled to start the third inning, his first AB as an Oriole. Robert Andino singled to left field and thanks to a misplay from Josh Willingham, Paulino was able to score and Andino ended up on second base. An infield single from Nolan Reimold put runners on the corners with no outs, but Hardy dumped a bucket of cold water on the inning by grounding into a double play. Sure, the run scored, but it cleared the bases and put two outs on the board. After a Markakis single, Jones popped up to end the inning.
The wheels totally came off for Liriano in the fourth inning, and it pretty much all happened with two outs. With Mark Reynolds on base thanks to a walk, Paulino doubled. Andino, who was also hot tonight, singled both runners in and moved to second on ANOTHER error from Willingham. Tough night for The Hammer. Reimold singled in Andino and Hardy popped out to end the inning and Liriano's night.
Meanwhile, Hunter. Through the first four innings Hunter was solid but not outstanding. He gave up a single to Joe Mauer in the first inning and allowed two base runners each in the second and fourth innings. But he got out of each without allowing a run and kept his pitch count low throughout. It helped that he didn't walk anyone in those innings, and finished with just one walk on the night.
Hunter dialed it up a notch after the fourth, retiring the Twins in order in the fifth and sixth. He then issued his only walk with one out in the sixth, but induced a double play ball from Danny Valencia to end the inning. Through seven innings Hunter had shut the Twins out and sat at only 88 pitches. Not a bad evening for Mr. Hunter! Unfortunately he didn't have the same good fortune in the eighth inning, thanks in part to our old friend at third base, Mark the Butcher.
Ben Revere led off the eighth for the Twins with a ground ball to third base that Mark Reynolds booted for an error (it was not his first poor play on the night). A ground ball single to right field and a flare to center later and the bases were loaded with no outs. That was it for Hunter, who left to a nice ovation from the crowd. What a nice first start for Hunter. Even his eighth inning wasn't so bad. And yeah, it's the Twins who are awful at hitting baseballs, but even still. Well done, Tommy.
Pedro Strop replaced Hunter and induced a ground ball to second from Jamey Carroll that looked like it might result in a double play. But it wasn't hit quite hard enough and Carroll beat the relay to first as a run came in to score. Strop tried again, this time getting Mauer to ground to shortstop. But it too wasn't hard hit, and that combined with a hard slide from Carroll and again the DP couldn't be turned (and again a run scored). After a ground ball single by Justin Morneau, Strop struck out Willingham to end the inning.
The Orioles scored their final two runs of the night in the seventh inning both via home run from two guys I love to see hit home runs. The first was Markakis, with his second home run of the season. It was Nick's third hit of the night. Not a bad start to the season for him. The second home run came from Matt Wieters, bouncing off the roof of the grounds crew shed.
With a comfortable 8-2 lead, Luis Ayala made his Orioles debut in the ninth with an easy 1-2-3 inning. The win secures the series for the Orioles and leaves their hopes for a wire-to-wire season intact.