So, the Twins. I know they finished with a worse record than the Orioles last year (in the AL Central, no less) and that the Orioles were 6-2 against them in 2011, but man. They are bad. I'm referring to their play the whole series, not just this game, but wow. I was not prepared for how Oriole-like they are.
If Hammel was trying to make a good impression in his Orioles debut, I'd say he succeeded. When the game began I couldn't help but miss Jeremy Guthrie a bit. I don't know what it's like to be a fan of a good team, but I think it's fair to say that fans of bad teams tend to cling to the players that are around for awhile, at least moderately successful, and who seem to like being on the team. Guthrie was all of those things, and so we miss him. But it didn't take long for Hammel to wipe Guts from my mind. A no-hitter into the eighth inning will do that, I suppose.
Hammel retired the side in order in the first inning, inducing ground outs from Denard Span and Jamey Carroll and a fly ball out from Joe Mauer. It was a solid but unexciting 14-pitch inning, one that doesn't raise any eyebrows.
With Nolan Reimold getting the day off today, Endy Chavez was leading off. He had a decent at bat against Twins starter Anthony Swarzak, seeing six pitches and eventually flying out. That brought J.J. Hardy to the plate, and J.J. put the O's on the board with his first home run of the season, hit a few rows deep in left field stands. Adam Jones also singled in the inning but wasn't able to score.
And with that both offenses fell asleep for quite awhile as Hammel and Swarzak traded zeroes through the top of the sixth inning. Hammel was especially impressive; in the second and fifth innings he walked a batter only to have him erased on a double play. Other than that the Twins didn't get on base. In fact Hammel faced the minimum number of batters through the seventh inning. Hammel's fastball was siting between 93-95 mph and his curveball looked pretty good too. This is the first time I can ever remember seeing Hammel pitch and while his stuff certainly wasn't dazzling, it was nice to see from an Orioles starter.
Swarzak, to his credit, kept the Orioles lineup that scored eight runs yesterday at bay through the fifth inning. Given that he was only in the game because the original starter, Liam Hendriks, caught a nasty case of food poisoning, it wasn't a bad bit of pitching. The Orioles had base runners in the first, second, third, and fifth innings, but only Hardy's home run blemished Swarzak's record. They just couldn't cash in.
Matt Maloney replaced Swarzak in the sixth inning and finally the Orioles were able to break through for a few more runs. Adam Jones led off the inning with a single and after Matt Wieters struck out, designated hitter Nick Johnson was hit by a pitch to put runners on first and second. Jones and Johnson pulled off a sweet double steal, with the throw going to third but not nearly in time to catch Jones. That set the table for Wilson Betemit, who got the call at third base while Mark Reynolds rests his injured foot. Maloney is a lefty, which is normally a problem for Betemit, but not this time. Maloney left a pitch up in the zone and Betemit smacked it to right-center field for a double. Jones and Johnson scored easily making the score 3-0. Neither Chris Davis nor Robert Andino could knock in Betemit, sadly.
After cruising through the seventh inning on twelve pitches, Hammel lost his no-hitter and his shutout almost immediately in the eighth. Back-to-back doubles by Justin Morneau and Josh Willingham made the score 3-1, and suddenly the tying run was at the plate for the Twins. The Orioles bullpen began to stir and...no, not Kevin Gregg! OK, I know he has to pitch sometime, but I'm sure I wasn't the only person in Birdland who suddenly had a vision of Hammel's great pitching performance going up in smoke at the hands of Captain Chaos.
Hammel got the first out of the inning on a strikeout of Ryan Doumit, but then walked Sean Burroughs. As the camera ominously cut to Gregg in the bullpen, Hammel struck out Luke Hughes and got a fly ball out from pinch hitter Chris Parmelee to end the inning. Crisis averted!
Jim Johnson relieved Hammel in the ninth and pitched a stress free 1-2-3 inning, striking out Mauer to end the game and secure the sweep of the Twins.
So the offense crapped out today but the pitching stepped up. The Orioles have swept the miserable Twins out of town but tomorrow will face a much tougher challenge as the Yankees arrive at Camden Yards. The Yankees were also just swept, so you know they'll be looking for blood. Let's hope Brian Matusz is up to the task and that the O's bats come alive after today's slumber.