The Orioles finally solved the Rangers, ekeing out an unlikely victory in the doubleheader opener, 6-5. It's not often you see a team win when its offense strikes out 12 times, fails to put a runner on base for a five-inning span, and manages just five hits. Then again, it helps when those five hits are ALL homeruns, including three in a row to start the game. The Birds needed every inch of their longball display, holding on to win despite a three-run Rangers rally in the ninth.
Wei-Yin Chen began the game like a man possessed, throwing 9 of 12 pitches for strikes in the first inning, dialing 95 mph, and capping a perfect frame with a strikeout of Josh Hamilton. From what I can tell, it's the first at-bat of Hamilton's major-league career in which he hasn't homered.
But wait til you see what the O's had in store in the bottom of the first. On Colby Lewis's second pitch of the game, Ryan Flaherty swatted a drive onto the flag court for his first major-league homer. Congratulations, Ryan! I hope someone can retrieve the ball so that you--
Hold on...while I was typing that, the next batter, J.J. Hardy, cranked a homerun of his own into the left-field seats. Back-to-back blasts to start the game! It's the first time the Orioles have accomplished that feat since Jerry Hairston and Mike Bordick on June 6, 2001, when--
Gah! While I was typing THAT, Nick Markakis joined the homerun barrage with another dong to right, off the foul pole, making it 3-0. Wow! Eight pitches and three batters into the game, the O's had accomplished a historic feat, becoming the first AL team ever to start a game with three straight homeruns. The last time anyone did it was the Brewers on September 9, 2007, which coincidentally also featured Hardy (sandwiched between Rickie Weeks and Ryan Braun).
Between Chen's dominance and the Birds' record-setting homerun display, the first inning was the single most enjoyable frame of Orioles baseball since...well, since Sunday's 17th at Fenway. The Orioles had Lewis on the ropes before he'd even recorded an out.
And yet, as if he'd flipped a switch, Lewis all at once transformed from gopher-ball-happy batting practice pitcher into the second coming of Randy Johnson. I've never seen anything like it. Immediately after the third O's homer left the yard, Lewis retired the next 18 batters he faced, including an incredible 11 strikeouts. What in the world? How could the Orioles look so invincible for the first three batters and then become utterly unable to even make contact for six innings?
Fortunately, Chen made those three early runs stand up. He passed his most difficult test in the third inning, when the Rangers loaded the bases with one out. Chen fielded an Elvis Andrus grounder and got a force at the plate for out number two. Up next was...oh boy. Hamilton. We're doomed! Just put the grand slam on the board and get it over with! Chen, however, was not nearly as panicky as myself. He retired Hamilton on a fly to left to escape the jam.
Wei-Yin did allow a run in the fourth on a Yorvit Torrealba RBI single, but otherwise he was excellent today. Following in Lewis's footsteps, Chen retired 10 batters in a row at one point, carrying his gem into the seventh inning before a pair of two-out hits ended his day. A second run was charged to Chen when atrocious third baseman Wilson Betemit turned a grounder into an infield hit, but still Wei-Yin held the powerful Rangers to just two runs in 7 ⅔ frames. Luis Ayala stranded two runners with a strikeout to end the eighth.
Meanwhile, Lewis was again possessed by the spirit of Brad Pennington in the seventh, reverting to his horrendous first-inning form with a pair of mammoth homeruns. Adam Jones got it started with a blast into the left-field seats, and after a walk, Betemit bludgeoned a blast into the bleachers. So, to recap-- Orioles homeruns today: 5. Orioles singles, doubles, and triples today: 0. Baseball is a strange game. Look no further than Lewis, who set a career high in strikeouts (11) but also a career high in homeruns allowed (5). A true Jekyll-and-Hyde performance.
The normally reliable Orioles bullpen almost blew the four-run lead in the ninth. Ayala gave up a broken-bat single and a double to open the inning. It was now an official save situation with the possible tying run on deck, so Buck Showalter-- as is contractually required for all managers-- brought in his closer at that very instant.
Jim Johnson was shaky at first, starting Mitch Moreland with a 3-0 count before recovering to retire him on a flyout. He wasn't so lucky with David Murphy, who cranked a pinch-hit, three-run homer into the right-field seats. Oh my. Suddenly the score was uncomfortably close at 6-5. Undeterred, Johnson shook off the homer and retired the next two batters to end the ballgame. Good thing, too-- had one of them gotten on base, Josh Hamilton would've come to the plate representing the go-ahead run. But, crisis averted! And the O's are back in the win column.