In what was easily the most stressful game of the season so far, the Orioles and Red Sox labored for thirteen innings in a game that lasted four hours and thirty-seven minutes until finally, at nearly midnight, the Orioles prevailed. Matt Wieters is credited with scoring the go-ahead run in the thirteenth inning, but the real star of tonight's game was the Orioles bullpen. After an ineffective outing from starter Wei-Yin Chen that lasted just five innings, the bullpen pitched the final eight and were brilliant.
Chen got off to a good start in the game, retiring the first two batters he saw before two consecutive errors extended the inning. Oh, the defense. Chen got out of it, but he had to throw eight more pitches than he should have. He was right back in trouble in the second inning thanks to a triple, a pair of walks, a throwing error by Nick Markakis, and a wild pitch that gave the Red Sox the early 1-0 lead. It was early, but it looked like the O's were heading to an embarrassing loss.
The Red Sox continued to knock Chen around in the third, scoring two more runs on a couple hits and a sacrifice fly. Chen got out of the fourth inning without any runs scored thanks to a great play by Robert Andino and a good pick off of Mike Aviles. After allowing one more run in the fifth inning, Chen was mercifully pulled from the game. I'm honestly surprised he lasted that long. Even most of the outs against him were loud.
Just as the Red Sox were knocking around Chen, the Orioles were doing their best to get to Lester. They did score three runs and knock him out after six innings, but Lester was definitely the better starting pitcher tonight.
In the top of the third inning, just as the scuttlebutt on Twitter was about the Orioles potentially signing Miguel Tejada (seriously, that is not a joke), Mark Reynolds picked a great time to hit his first home run of the year. And it wasn't a cheap shot by any means, sailing over the Green Monster seats and tying the game at 1. It was the beginning of a good night at the plate for Reynolds (finally). The O's added two more in the fourth inning when, after Adam Jones walked to lead off, Wieters tripled him in (again, I'm not joking). Wieters then scored on a single by Wilson Betemit, which at the time tied the game at three.
The Orioles had a golden opportunity to break the game open in the seventh inning (and thus probably avoid the extra-innings bonanza), but they choked big time. With Lester out of the game, Vicente Padilla took over and he was not good. Neither was the Red Sox defense. With Reynolds on second via a double, Ronny Paulino hit a ball to Adrian Gonzalez at first base. Reynolds took off for third (as one does on a ground ball to the right side) and Gonzalez threw across the diamond to try to get him! He was unsuccessful, which put runners on the corners. Andino had a very patient at-bat that resulted in a walk, which loaded the bases for J.J. Hardy. Hardy hacked away at a pitch and grounded it to second for a double play ball. NO! The tying run came into score but the rally was snuffed. Markakis flew out to left field to end the inning.
With both starters out of the game and a tie score of 4-4, it was up to the bullpens to keep their team in the game. Once Padilla was out, the Red Sox did a pretty good job. Former Orioles Rich Hill and Matt Albers held them scoreless, and Alfredo Aceves was just filthy, striking out six in 2.2 innings. When Franklin Morales replaced him in the 12th inning, I breathed a sigh of relief.
I can say with confidence that the Orioles bullpen was better than the Red Sox bullpen, because the Red Sox bullpen gave up runs to lose the game. Seriously, though, they looked great. Matt Lindstrom, Pedro Strop, Luis Ayala, Troy Patton, and Jim Johnson combined to pitch eight shutout innings. Lindstrom and JJ pitched on perfect inning a piece, sandwiched around two innings each from Strop, Ayala, and Patton. I hope Jason Hammel has a complete game in him for tomorrow, because the bullpen is tapped out. Darren O'Day and Kevin Gregg were the only relievers that didn't get used in this game.
Of all the relief pitchers used by the Orioles, Strop was the only one who appeared off his game. He allowed just one hit and one walk in his two innings, but the Red Sox were hitting the ball very hard against him. In the 8th inning he got into a jam when, with David Ortiz at first, Cody Ross hit a line drive up the middle that looked like it would be a base hit. Then, out of nowhere, Hardy dove and made a fantastic catch. He quickly threw the ball to first to double up Ortiz and save the day. Check out the play, it's awesome. The play almost made up for his double play debacle in the top of the inning.
After the teams exchanged zeroes for five innings, the Orioles finally broke through in the top of the thirteenth. With one out, Wieters singled and Betemit walked. Chris Davis hit a seeing-eye single into right field, hit just slowly enough for the slow slow Wieters to score the go-ahead run. Reynolds added an insurance run via sacrifice fly to make it 6-4, and then Jim Johnson closed out the game easily in the bottom of the thirteenth.
This game was brutal to watch, but rewarding in the end. This team has so much fight in it this year that they make me proud to watch. I may be singing a different tune in a few months, but for now, they're my boys.