It was a dark and stormy night when Jason Hammel took the mound. The game was delayed for an hour due to a thunderstorm that never quite arrived, but Hammel was both thunder and lightning tonight. In tying his career high of ten strikeouts, he flashed a mid-90s fastball with great command - no walks at all - and brought his own lightning with a curveball that made hitters look foolish. Natitude brought itself to Birdland tonight, and the orange wave rolls out triumphant into the Baltimore night.
One start after his complete game shutout performance in Atlanta, it looked like Hammel might be trying to do that very same thing again, just with more hits allowed. He gave up five on the night and powered through two errors by Mark Reynolds at first base. The lone run was unearned. There were a couple of hard hit balls in the 8th and he did not return for the 9th. Jim Johnson came in to close it out and fielded a sharp liner by Danny Espinosa after getting two quick outs to end the game.
Hammel needed to be at his best again, because the Orioles offense was not in a mood to deliver, although they delivered just enough. Reynolds delivered a bit of redemption for his defensive play by hitting a solo home run in the 2nd inning, getting out ahead of the unearned run that scored because of his throwing error on a weird play where a runner managed to score from first on an infield grounder. The less said about it, the better. Hammel also had to contend with another game with Chris Davis in the outfield. While he had that one nice diving catch in Atlanta, he seemed to try to duplicate that play today on a ball that he had no business diving towards. No big deal: Jason will just go ahead and strike out the side. Who needs outfielders anyway?
The Orioles' other run - the margin of victory - came in the 5th inning where they managed to scratch out a run with a couple of two out base hits. Nick Johnson was hit by a pitch, took second on a single by Brian Roberts and scored on a double by J.J. Hardy. There were two outs and two men on as Davis came to the plate, but he flew out to center to end the threat. Davis is now 0 for his last 24, but Hammel needed no more help. He must have been watching during the series against New York and decided to take matters into his own hands.
It's tough to express how much of a surprise Hammel has been. We often talk on here about how the official Camden Chat opinion seemed to be that Jeremy Guthrie was traded for a couple of guys who would probably not be any better than him. Instead we have our hands on a strikeout pitcher who's sporting a 2.61 ERA after 14 starts, good for 6th lowest in the ERA. He is a dominant pitcher and he is the reason the Orioles won tonight.
The hot-hitting Bryce Harper had no chance against Hammel. He went 0-4. The Nationals contingent in the crowd tried to get a little cheer going for him as he came up to the plate in the first inning, but they were lustily booed down by the rest of a sellout crowd of 45,891 that stuck it out through the rain that fell intermittently throughout the game. There were a number of them there, but being as they are newly-converted Nats fans, they don't really know how to get cheers going, like, say, the Philadelphia fans did. There was no doubt that this was Oriole Park tonight.
There were only four at-bats for the Nationals all night where there were runners in scoring position. Two came in the second after Davis played the Michael Morse liner into a double - it would have likely just been a single if he hadn't made the dive - and two followed back-to-back hits by Ian Desmond and Espinosa in the 7th. Hammel responded by whiffing Roger Bernadina to bring up catcher Jesus Flores with two down. After eight innings with no earned runs tonight, he's working on a 19 inning scoreless streak.
Flores hit a hard liner to short. I was ready to groan in agony, but then J.J. Hardy leaped and made the catch as the crowd went wild. The hardest thing about being in the press box is that you're not supposed to cheer. I have about one moment a game where I can't resist making a small gesture or letting one sound escape. This was my moment in this game. I half-raised my fists and immediately thought better of it. I hope they'll forgive me my one slight.
With the win, the Orioles picked up their 40th of the year, bringing them to a 40-30 record. They haven't had 40 wins in June since 2008, when they were 40-36, where last year they had a record of 40-57 on July 23 and a record of 40-74 on August 11 in 2010. That will play.
Johnson's save was his 21st of the year. Could he and Hammel both be playing their way into the All-Star conversation? Johnson now sports a 1.14 ERA.
The O's now have a 12-6 record in one run games, and not surprisingly they are 18-1 when their starter goes at least seven innings in the game. This continues to be the story for the Orioles: as long as the starting pitching is good enough, then the bullpen closes the door and they win some exciting games. Tonight was no exception as they got back on the right foot after being swept in New York.
They will look to get back to their series winning ways tomorrow evening at 7:15pm - which I believe will be another FOX game, so those of you in unfortunate markets may be screwed. The matchup will be Wei-Yin Chen for the Orioles against Edwin Jackson for the Nats.