From the top of the first inning, you could just feel like it wasn't going to be the Orioles' night. Three hard-hit balls off of Braves starter Tommy Hanson resulted in a web gem groundout, a single to center and a web gem GIDP. There are just those nights where it seems as if a finger of the baseball gods is on the other side of the scale. We might be less disappointed in the outcome were deus ex machina involved in this defeat.
The opportunities were there for the O's to win the game, if they got one key hit, or if starter Brian Matusz could get the last key out. Neither of these occurred, and so the Orioles must go back to their hotel rooms in Atlanta feeling like they let this one get away.
Double plays have killed the Orioles offense all year and they killed it again tonight. The O's entered tonight's game with 68 GIDPs in 63 games played. That's tops in the major leagues by a margin of four, and they added four more GIDPs tonight to take the total up to 72. Half of the teams in baseball have hit into 48 or fewer double plays, so the O's are sitting with 50% more GIDPs than the median. It's absurd, especially when you consider that the Orioles tonight twice pulled the old "GIDP immediately following a walk" routine. The pitcher can't find the strike zone! Wait for a good pitch! Alternatively, roll over on garbage and crush all our dreams. That was the choice tonight.
Before I get into more of the downers of this game, I want to talk about two awesome things that happened tonight. One of these things happened on the baseball diamond and one did not. You may have heard that Chris Davis was playing right field tonight. The last time he played right field professionally, he was in low-A in 2006. He played two games in right at that time. He had one real chance: in the top of the sixth Chipper Jones hit a ball that was diving towards the line. Had Davis laid up on getting to it, he could have played the carom, held Jones to a double and we would have said, "That's what we expect Davis to do in right field."
Davis instead dashed straight for the ball as if he was defending a perfect game. He covered ground, got into position and made a diving catch. It wasn't the graceful, full-extension diving catch you might see on a highlight reel. He tumbled before standing up and holding up the ball in his glove. But for Chris Davis, playing right field, it was a great catch. If the Orioles won tonight's game, he would be Most Birdland.
The other awesome thing happened in the broadcasting booth. While they were discussing their plans for the next night - tomorrow's game being broadcast on FOX means Thorne and Bordick will not be on duty for MASN - Gary mentioned that he would "probably be in an adult location enjoying some adult beverages." Bordick, surprising all those who thought he had no sense of humor, said, "Just remember to drink ... ... responsibly."
That's funny enough, but Gary went on to talk a little about his signature phrase and about the ladies who put it on a t-shirt. This, we believe, was a Camden Chat shoutout - at a Blogger Night two years ago, 2632 and Stacey were wearing the Camden Chat shirts we made in honor of this Thorne trademark. They showed off the shirts for him and he was tickled - tickled enough, it seems, to mention the occurrence two years later.
Now back to the bad parts.
Also high up in the dream-crushing category tonight was Matusz. He needed to have a good outing tonight. What he ended up having was a game that those in the game thread were arguing whether or not it would, in fact, constitute the worst quality start ever, if Matusz managed to get a quality start. As it turned out, there was no need to worry about that. Though his 6th inning was shortened by that Davis catch, Brian could not close the door. He gave up a single to Matt Diaz, managed to strike out Jason Heyward, then left a pitch hanging in the sweet spot for 22-year old Andrelton Simmons, who hit a home run that barely cleared the left field fence. Barely is still enough for a 3-2 Braves lead.
There is room for second-guessing Buck's handling of Matusz tonight. For one, Matusz came up to the plate in the O's half of the 6th inning with two men on base and two men down. He had thrown 88 pitches and did not, in the opinion of this blogger, have anything approximating his best stuff tonight. Showalter could have easily put in a pinch hitter like Nick Johnson there. It seems instead he chose to test Matusz - who worked a full count and fouled off a number of pitches before striking out. Plucky or foolish?
Did this effort tire him out? Does it matter if it did? Let's not make excuses for Brian. He was tired, but if he's ever going to fulfill what we once thought was his destiny as a top starter, he has to find a way to get that last out. Instead he gave up the home run to Simmons, then gave up a triple to pinch-hitter Jack Wilson (slash line prior to that AB: .167/.190/.183). The damage was already done, so Buck left Matusz in the game to get that last out. He never did get the last out. He threw 116 pitches on the night.
The fourth run scored courtesy of a seeing-eye single from Michael Bourn that just snuck out of the infield. After this hit, Brian could be seen on TV saying, "You have gotta be f***ing kidding me." Well, Brian, that was our reaction when you gave up a triple to Jack Wilson, and when you gave up that home run, and when you tried to be a hero in your at-bats this game...
After that it was only a matter of going quietly into that good night. Adam Jones lead off the 8th with a single, and life looked promising for a moment, until he got caught in a pickoff play. Matt Wieters walked and Mark Reynolds GIDP'd. Not much different story in the 9th, when Wilson Betemit served an 0-2 single to left, followed by a Steve Pearce strikeout and a pinch-hit GIDP from Nick Johnson.
That grim business related, a soapbox moment is due. Tonight, the Atlanta fans gave a standing ovation to Hanson when he was pulled from the game despite the fact that he only went 5.1 IP and gave up six walks. Hanson also surrendered four hits, though neither of the two runs were earned. Perhaps the Braves fans were feeling charitable because Hanson notched his 500th career strikeout, a nice round number. He only struck out two. This is the standard for a standing ovation in the town that saw Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz?
As mentioned above, tomorrow's game will be found on TV on FOX, and if you're not in the right market, you may be screwed due to MLB's draconian rules regarding the online broadcasting service that you paid for. The 7:15pm game will feature Jason Hammel squaring off against Brandon Beachy.