Five days ago, Jake Arrieta wasn't good enough to be in the starting rotation any more. He was sent to the bullpen, but never actually made an appearance in a game, so when the fluke - or as MASN analyst Mike Bordick kept calling it "tragic bunting accident" - occurred to keep Brian Matusz from starting today, he was the next man up to go. Would he be able to manage any success in this unexpected spot start? The press box reporters all said to one another that they believed Jake would do fine tonight, because he wouldn't have had time to think about this outing, he would just have to go out and pitch.
Whatever led them to that insight, it seems to have been correct, because Jake - admittedly against a Pirates lineup that is the worst in baseball - turned in a masterful game. He tied his career high for strikeouts with nine, a number he's managed four times in his career. At times the Pittsburgh hitters had absolutely no chance against him, such as when he struck out the side after a leadoff double in the second inning. Jake had only two clean 1-2-3 innings on the night, but he scattered the seven hits he allowed with one walk and one HBP and only gave up one run on the night. He would pitch seven innings on 108 pitches.
Pittsburgh starter Kevin Correia did not fare so well on the evening. From the first inning, Orioles batters were keyed in to his pitches and they spent most of the game hitting lasers every which way throughout the stadium. Correia would give up ten hits in his six innings of work.
Production came for the Orioles up and down the lineup. Though their 1, 4 and 5 hitters were hitless on the night - Brian Roberts taking an 0-5 with two Ks in his second game back from the disabled list - everyone else produced. J.J. Hardy, Chris Davis, Mark Reynolds, Wilson Betemit and Steve Pearce all had multi-hit games.
With that barrage of 13 hits, the Orioles were in fairly good hands: they now have a 23-3 record when they out-hit their opponents, and they are 28-9 when scoring four or more runs. They managed to get their seven runs in spite of only 1-5 hitting with runners in scoring position, with the lone RISP hit being a Pearce single in the second inning. When you get a solo home run and a two-run home run to help your scoring, going along with a strong effort from the starter, then hitting with RISP becomes much less important.
Let's take a look at how some of the key situations played out.
Jake was on at the beginning of the game, racking up five of his strikeouts in the first two innings. He needed to get them, because he'd allowed a base hit in each one. Giving up a hit to the best Pirates player, Andrew McCutchen, is one thing, but he also gave up a double to Casey McGehee, who is otherwise known as the guy O'sFan21 struck out a couple of times in (I think) college. Of course, McGehee got two hits off of Jake, but none when it really mattered.
The real question would be when Jake would have his one bad inning, how bad it would be and whether he would be able to escape. That came for him in the fourth. While he got McCutchen on a grounder to short to start the inning, he couldn't field a grounder back to the pitcher by Pirates cleanup hitter Garrett Jones. McGehee followed with his second single, bringing up Pedro Alvarez, who hit a comebacker that once again Arrieta could not field cleanly - what would have been a fairly easy GIDP play, 1-6-3, was instead a fielder's choice 1-6, and Jake followed by loading the bases when he issued a walk to Jose Tabata.
Two men down and the bases loaded, and the inning had the feeling of that meltdown inning that Jake always has. He got a nice easy grounder from Clint Barmes and the crowd of 23,238 could exhale. Jake escaped with no damage done there and cruised through until the 7th, which he entered having thrown 90 pitches.
Maybe Jake was tired in the seventh. He gave up an infield single to Tabata, which third baseman Betemit bare-handed but held on to instead of throwing. Barmes flew out to left, but Jake hit backup catcher Michael McKenry with a pitch to put two men on and gave up a single to left from Alex Presley. Once again, the bases were loaded and you had to wonder if he was out of gas. Neil Walker grounded to first, where Reynolds stepped on the base and threw home too late for Wieters to tag the sliding Tabata. There were still two men on when McCutchen came to the plate, but another grounder to Betemit and the threat was done, along with Jake's night - a most impressive one, even if it was against the worst offense in MLB.
The Orioles' scoring was provided in large part thanks to Davis and Betemit. Davis came up in the first with Hardy already on first and doubled in the first run of the day. Later, in the 7th, Davis would come up to the plate again after a Hardy single and hit a broken bat fly ball that ended up bouncing off the top of the groundskeepers' shed just next to the out of town scoreboard. A barely home run is still a home run - and those were the 6th and 7th O's runs of the night, many more than they would need. Even the veteran reporters were shouting at one another about how they had never seen a broken bat home run before.
Betemit added three RBI himself on the day, doubling in Reynolds in the second, scoring Reynolds (who had reached third with nobody out thanks to a double and an error in left field by Presley) on a sacrifice fly, and adding a solo home run of his own. We often talk about how Betemit "owes" us because of defensive liabilities - he had at least one such play tonight when he couldn't field a grounder down the left field line that became a double. Most nights this leaves us disappointed, but tonight he delivered. He had a three-hit night and scored two runs.
The O's are 25-0 when they lead after the 7th, and thanks to Arrieta, that's exactly what they were doing. Troy Patton and Pedro Strop each threw a scoreless inning, though Strop, the birthday boy, gave up a double and a walk before settling down to finish the game. I shouldn't say that he settled down entirely, because he relied on a fluke play to get the second out: a Bermuda Triangle popup down the left field line fell into fair territory and the Pirates runner, Tabata, was not in position to run to third after the ball landed fair. Alertly, left fielder Pearce threw in to Strop, covering third, to get the seldom-seen 7-1 forceout.
With their second straight win against Pittsburgh, the O's have given the Pirates their first series loss after having won five straight. The O's, after a slump, have now won seven of their last ten and thanks to a Rays loss find themselves in second place in the American League East on this 13th day of June. The six-run margin of victory also gives the O's a positive run differential - at least for now.
In tomorrow's 7:05pm game, the O's will be looking to get the sweep and extend their record over the National League to 7-2 on the season. Tommy Hunter will be starting for the Orioles against our old friend Erik Bedard.