Buck thinks to himself, not for the first time, that he could have just kept working at ESPN. Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-US PRESSWIRE
It was the best of games, it was the worst of games, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of pitching failure, it was the season of fluke victories, it was the season of embarrassing losses, it was the summer of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct to last place...
The above paragraph goes with all credit to Associated Press writer David Ginsburg, and some other guy who sat a row in front of me who works for an organization I don't know. They first uttered "the best of games, the worst of games" and "it was a tale of nine innings" and I knew I had to run with the rest. But anyway, those two gentlemen can't slip such literary allusions into their copy, and I can. There are certain advantages - few as they are - to being a blogger. (Do I get to call it copy or is that too pretentious? These are the questions I ask when I want to avoid talking about a horrible game.)
This game was an absolute embarrassment for a team that has any kind of pretensions towards staying in the playoff race. Then it wasn't, with a wild rally against one of the best pitching staffs (by ERA, anyway) and the best bullpen in the AL. Then, suddenly it was an embarrassment again, as a six-run ninth inning vomited onto the baseball field, a six-run inning following the Orioles dramatically taking the lead back, then having that inning evaporate as the ghost of Juan Samuel that continues to haunt the third-base coaching box to this day sent Jim Thome to an out by a mile at the plate. Seriously, what are you doing there, DeMarlo Hale?
The league leader in saves blew his third of the year and his ERA rose (with an assist from Luis "And All The Inherited Runners Shall Score" Ayala) near to the 4.00 mark. There could be no heroics, no extra innings today. The Orioles' undefeated streak when leading after 8 innings came to an end. The singles, the singles, the endless stream of singles. The torrent, once it began, could not be stopped.
Not even a good Mark Reynolds defensive play to open up the ninth inning - which began with such promise, Jim Johnson with a one-run lead - was enough. Baseballs landed everywhere they could possibly go, except for in fielders' gloves. There were not even any bad plays for most of it - not for the early parts of the 9th, until a Nick Markakis I-wanna-go-home misplay off the out of town scoreboard cleared the bases (that had been loaded, all from singles and one walk) to get us to the 14-9 final. There were other disasters in the game. This was merely the final one, the one that sealed the doom.
They fought back from others, because they are the Orioles, and somehow they battle, even with an occasionally terrible starting rotation and one of the worst offenses in the game. Nine runs on a night where they could have folded up the tent after the top of the first in which Oakland scored four runs, but fourteen? Just a bit too much, fourteen.
Let's not forget a game that featured Zach Britton giving up six earned runs in 5.2 innings pitched, six hits, two home runs, three walks, only two strikeouts. He did not have anything resembling his best stuff tonight - or worse, perhaps this was his best stuff. Oakland is not a great offense and they still pasted him. He'd given up five of those runs in the first two innings, so in some ways he battled to make it as far as he did, but he wasn't good, and if he's not going to be better next time, what are the Orioles to do?
The next player to follow him was the new roster addition for today's game, Miguel Socolovich. What happens when you bring in the last reliever in the bullpen to face a key situation? Well... when it's today, for the Orioles, for Socolovich, the answer is he walks the number nine hitter (after Britton had walked the eight hitter), walks the leadoff hitter and then gives up a bases-clearing double to pinch-hitter Seth Smith - lots of that tonight, it seemed, in the four-hour marathon that was this game.
There is more to say about that double, because it was one of those Orioles defense plays. Disaster may have been averted, if there was a real left fielder out in left field. There was not a real left fielder. There was Chris Davis. He stumbled on a liner that hung up in the air. A speedy left fielder with better instincts, such as Xavier Avery, may well have caught the ball. In all likelihood, he would have - three runs would not have scored. The last run also may not have scored, because Davis made in a good throw to the cutoff man, but the cutoff man was Omar Quintanilla, starting at second tonight, and instead of making the relay throw that would have destroyed Coco Crisp at the plate, he looked to hold the runner at second.
Whatever, though. I mean, when the team gives up fourteen runs there's failure on multiple levels. I have addressed the largest of them. Johnson, man - it was bad. Britton was bad, Socolovich was bad, and the defense was bad. No errors were assigned to the Orioles, but Andrew would have been saying "That's a minus!" left and right, justifiably so. Then there was just the bad luck of every cheap flare, dribbler, and whatever else finding a hole through the infield as Johnson pitched in the 9th. Five singles! The BABIP gods at times giveth, and the BABIP gods, at other times, taketh away.
Tonight, they tooketh away, as the Orioles, in turn, took away from our sanity, took away from our hopes, and our dreams, and if you ride the rollercoaster like me then tonight you will feel as if you are careening off the rails, about to crash into a crowd of innocent onlookers. That feeling will stay until the Orioles win another game - which could well happen tomorrow, when the matchup of starting pitchers with significant poundage, Bartolo Colon, and Tommy Hunter, will take place.
Should they lose tomorrow too, then we will still await the disaster we have known in our heart of hearts was coming all along this season. When you watch a game like tonight, one where you know the fatal flaws or the soft underbelly or whatever, have been exposed, how can you think of anything else?