Hey! That's OUR thing, Royals. (Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-US PRESSWIRE)
Did you know there was baseball played tonight? Yeah...that was a bad idea.
It was a loooooong, long evening at Camden Yards. If the three-hour rain delay of intermittent downpours weren't enough misery for one night, then the Orioles' subsequent lifeless, listless performance against the AL's worst team-- in a game that ended after 1:00 in the morning-- was enough to send even the most die-hard O's fan streaming to the exits.
Oh man, the rain. This was no joke, people. The weather was all clear until about 20 minutes before the scheduled 7:05 start time, when the heavens opened up and spewed their watery destruction over the ballpark. That began a soggy three-hour battle of wits between Mother Nature and the Camden Yards grounds crew. The rain was an epic tease. It would fall in buckets, then lighten up. Then pour down again. Then lighten for a bit, followed by another monsoon. At about 9:00, two hours into the delay, the Orioles proudly announced: "Thunderstorms in the area are beginning to diminish! We're projecting a game start time of 9:25." But no sooner had the grounds crew taken the tarp off the field and the P.A. announcer rattled off the lineups than another downpour hit hard. It's as if the skies were laughing at us. And the tarp's back on the field. And again we play the waiting game, for nearly another hour.
Finally, at around 9:45, the rain stopped for good. I was pleasantly surprised by the number of fans who stuck around to watch the pre-game Eddie Murray ceremony-- even nearly three hours late and in dreary conditions, the crowd looked to number around 15,000 to 20,000 when Murray and fellow Hall of Famers Cal Ripken, Earl Weaver, and Jim Palmer took the field. Fans greeted an emotional Murray with boisterous chants of "Ed-DIE! Ed-DIE!" As you might expect, Murray kept his speech short and sweet, thanking the fans for their support. He raved about the present-day Orioles and how well they've played to stay in the thick of a postseason run.
You wouldn't know it by tonight's forgettable effort from the Birds. As Chris Tillman took the mound and the game finally began at 10:10-- following a delay of three hours, nine minutes-- the fans who stuck around at Camden Yards certainly hoped this game would be worth the wait. Well, that question was answered remarkably quickly when Tillman gave up a homerun to the very first batter he faced, Alex Gordon. It was Gordon's second leadoff homer of the series, and (as it turned out) gave the Royals a lead they would never relinquish.
OK, we've seen this before from Tillman-- he's always terrible in the first inning, but then he gets his act together and delivers a fine performance. But in tonight's case, he just continued to stink, getting burned repeatedly by the gopher ball. Salvador Perez smashed a two-run homer in the second inning, and then Billy Butler bashed a solo bomb in the third when Tillman grooved him a 3-0 fastball. Already it was a 4-0 game, and fans began filing out with every successive inning.
Tillman didn't make it through the sixth inning. He was ultimately charged with six runs and six hits in 5 ⅔ innings, his second-worst outing of the year. Miguel Socolovich let two inherited runners score on an Eric Hosmer single in the sixth, then gave up a run of his own in the seventh on Gordon's second homerun of the game. It's 7-0. Why did we stick around for this?
The Orioles' hitters basically looked like a group who didn't expect a game to be played tonight. Even against a nobody named Luis Mendoza, they couldn't get any offense going. Six baserunners in the first six innings didn't help them plate any runs.
As the night stretched into the wee hours, the ever-decreasing crowd got steadily stranger, perhaps from lack of sleep. A section over from where we were sitting, a bunch of kids kept erupting in an incomprehensible chant. It sounded like they were shouting "Matt!" Except they did it even when Wieters wasn't batting. They may have instead been chanting "Yes!", but that makes no sense either. Maybe they were just trying to keep their energy up amidst a dud of a ballgame that gave Orioles fans very little to cheer about.
The O's showed signs of life in only one half-inning, the bottom of the seventh. Naturally, Manny Machado was the lynchpin, because he is awesome. With two runners aboard, he ripped an RBI double down the left-field line that plated one and snapped the shutout. Machado now has a single, double, a triple, and two homeruns in just three games as a big-leaguer. Not bad at all, Manny. Omar Quintanilla followed with a two-run single, chasing Mendoza from the game and cutting the Royals' lead to 7-3.
But the Birds would get no closer. Reliever Kelvin Herrera stranded two runners to end the inning, and the Royals' bullpen finished things off from there. Nick Markakis took a called strike three just before 1:15 AM to bring an unhappy end to a seemingly interminable night.