Six hours and seven minutes after Ryan Flaherty led off the game for the Orioles, the winning pitcher, Chris Davis stood on the mound as Red Sox pitcher Darnell McDonald grounded into a game-ending double play. Wait, what?
Long before that, there was a baseball game where Tommy Hunter and Clay Buchholz were the starting pitchers. Both of these guys pitched poorly today; each gave up five runs and neither lasted beyond the fifth inning. J.J. Hardy had two solo homers in the first three innings. Robert Andino played villain for the Red Sox again, launching a three-run home run in the fourth inning that gave the Orioles a 5-0 lead. At the time, it looked like a nice margin, but Tommy Hunter mysteriously lost his ability to pitch after that. In the fifth inning, Hunter loaded up the bases and then promptly gave up a game-tying grand slam to Will Middlebrooks.
None of that matters, though, because the story of the game was Chris Davis. He had a devastatingly awful day at the plate. He had a platinum sombrero after five at-bats, and he didn't look like he had a clue. In his sixth at-bat, he grounded into a double-play, erasing a leadoff hitter. For good measure he made two more outs in the 15th and 17th innings, and in all he had an 0-for-8 on the day.
Chris Davis was the designated hitter, which means that he was assigned to hit instead of the assorted Orioles pitchers. As the innings stretched on, the Orioles unleashed their own offensive futility even as one reliever after the next thwarted the Red Sox batters in turn, with two exceptions: Mark Reynolds doubled in Adam Jones to score an unearned run off Vicente Padilla, and Troy Patton was charged with an earned run when Jarrod Saltalamacchia drove in pinch-runner Darnell McDonald on a sacrifice fly.
The stable was empty. The seven bullpen pitchers combined to throw 11.2 innings with only one run surrendered. Then, after Jim Johnson had thrown two innings, the questions began: would the Orioles use the next day's starter? Brian Matusz sat out in the bullpen all by himself, but it was Davis, the 0-for-7 with 5 Ks and a GIDP Davis, who we saw warming up, and Davis took the mound. He was the first position player to pitch for the Orioles since Manny Alexander.
No one knew what to expect. Chris Davis pitching! In the bottom of the 16th inning! How could the game fail to end? But Davis started giving back that platinum sombrero, striking out Saltalamacchia and getting an easy flyout from Middlebrooks. He flashed an 89mph fastball and what may very well have been a changeup that he used to whiff Salty. Not even Wilson Betemit (a late-inning replacement) butchering a ball at third base to give an extra baserunner fazed him. Actually, the game very nearly ended right there. The next batter was Mike Aviles, who walloped a fat, hanging pitch to deep center. "Oh, well," I thought, "at least they gave it all they had."
Then Adam Jones fielded the ball cleanly off the wall and fired a perfect strike to cutoff man J.J. Hardy, who then sent a one-hopper to Matt Wieters, who was, naturally, perfectly blocking the plate. Marlon Byrd tried to bowl Wieters over, but please. Who do you think you are? Wieters will not be displaced by a measly name like Marlon Byrd. Get out of his office. Wieters flashed the baseball to the umpire, along with a look like, "Was that awesome, or what?" and plate umpire Jim Hoey confirmed what our eyes saw: Byrd was out. The inning was over. Davis escaped unscathed.
The Red Sox had emptied their own bullpen by this time. Who would they send out to pitch? The answer was Darnell McDonald, also in the game as designated hitter, since he ran for David Ortiz. He scored the tying run at the time, so that was good for the Sox, but you could not say the same for his pitching. McDonald looked like a position player trying to pitch. He walked Betemit on four pitches, but Betemit then decided to try to steal second base, and was thrown out by several steps. Betemit (well, him and Hunter) is probably the only reason I will not include "the whole team" as an option on the MBP poll. This was one of the stupidest things I have ever seen. You just had a position player pitching issue a walk, looking like he had no idea how to pitch, and you unleash a TOOTBLAN (thrown out on the basepaths like a nincompoop)?
Well, McDonald left one over the plate and J.J. Hardy doubled to left, and Nick Markakis showed patience, getting a walk from McDonald as well. First and second base with one man down. Markakis would have an 0-for-4 on the day, but he also had four walks. Up to the plate came Adam Jones. We all know what Adam was thinking. He wanted to blast a pitch. McDonald obliged him, leaving one right in the wheelhouse. Jones had some slapdick moments on the day, with two GIDPs (six total for the Orioles, including in consecutive innings from the 12th-15th) and a strikeout, but there was no doubt about the baseball that he launched up over the Green Monster, giving the Orioles a 9-6 lead.
Of course, there was no one left in the bullpen to get a save. Davis would have to defend his own lead. "Davis forfeit!" the Fenway crowd chanted prior to Davis' 13th inning GIDP. "We want Davis!" they chanted during Matt Wieters' at-bat in the 15th. There were two outs then, and Wieters obliged them by doubling. Davis grounded out then. "We want Davis!" they kept chanting. Then he shut them up in the 16th inning, and came back out for the 17th inning.
Disaster was written in the beginning of the inning. Ryan Sweeney smoked a ball right back up the middle that Davis got a glove on, but it didn't have a friendly ricochet. Then Davis walked Dustin Pedroia, looking like he'd about reached his pitching limit, and Adrian Gonzalez - hitless on the day - stepped up to bat. You and I have both seen the Orioles in recent years. We all knew there was only one way that encounter could end. Then, something funny happened. Davis pounded the outside corner like a seasoned veteran to get a two-strike count, then dropped a sinking split-finger fastball (or who even really knows what it was?) and Gonzalez whiffed pathetically as the ball dove away from him - the seventh strikeout for Davis, and the second as a pitcher.
Still, there were two men on base and McDonald came up to the plate for his own chance at redemption. The baseball gods would not save him today. Perhaps he angered them, showing up the umpire as both hitter and pitcher, but whatever the explanation, be it mundane or supernatural, McDonald only grounded the ball to Hardy, a tailor-made double-play ball. Still we held our breath, for we have seen the Orioles mess these things up, but the play was clean, 6-4-3, and the book on a wild game was finally closed. Stat gurus at ESPN tweeted that Davis is the first AL position player to receive credit for a win since Rocky Colavito in 1968 for New York.
Of his pitching performance, Davis told the MASN crew post-game, "I had no clue what was going on out there. Ryan Sweeney almost killed me. ... I kind of blacked out."
With a Tampa Bay loss earlier in the afternoon, the victory means that the Orioles have sole possession of first place in the American League East and they now have a 19-9 record, which could be the best record in MLB depending on the results of Washington and Los Angeles' games. It is at the very least a tie. The exhausted Orioles, who've now played 39 innings of baseball in the last three days, will return to Baltimore for a nine-game homestand, beginning tomorrow with four games against the Texas Rangers.
The Orioles are now 5-1 in the much-vaunted gauntlet. They have won multiple games I would not have believed it possible for them to win, including this one. They have swept the Red Sox in Boston. They have rekindled delicious angst in Boston fans. All of these were tests for the team and so far they have passed, but now the American League's best-scoring team looms, and much rides on the shoulders of the inconsistent Matusz to rest a depleted bullpen.
Opposing Matusz will be Rangers starter Matt Harrison in the series opener, which is tomorrow at 7:05pm.
We just might have a real baseball team on our hands here.