Rajai Davis tests Matt Wieters's arm, with the expected result. (Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-US PRESSWIRE)
Orioles win. Yankees lose. Rays lose. Screw the wild card-- let's go for the division title.
The Birds made it look easy tonight. A quality start, a prolific offensive showing, and another round of scoreless innings from the bullpen. That's how it's done.
It's been a hectic few weeks for Steve Johnson. The day after making his first major-league start (which he won) on August 8, Johnson was jettisoned to the minor leagues, then called back up a week later, scheduled to start in Detroit, forced to pitch in relief in a blowout, scratched from the start, stuck in bullpen purgatory, scheduled to start against the Blue Jays, forced to pitch another relief inning three days ago, but finally taking the mound tonight for his second big-league start. So it's safe to say he wasn't exactly working on his normal schedule.
In the first inning, it showed. Johnson was leaving his pitches high in the zone, getting away with a few hangers until Edwin Encarnacion jumped on a changeup that didn't change up and smashed a two-run homer to left. It would've been a three-run homer, mind you, if not for the catching Jesus that is Matt Wieters, who threw out Mike McCoy trying to steal a batter before. Toronto, didn't you get the memo? Don't run on Matt Wieters.
Wieters wasn't done making mincemeat of Blue Jays runners. In the third inning, Rajai Davis singled, but Wieters gunned him down at second base for his second caught stealing. ...Seriously, Blue Jays, what did I just say? Don't run on Matt Wieters.
Inexplicably, they tried to run again two innings later, with similarly disastrous results. Blue Jays? Are you kidding me with this? Are you all trying to get fired or something? In the fifth, Omar Vizquel singled. As he took his lead off first base, Vizquel gazed longingly at second and pondered, "Hmm...McCoy didn't make it. Rajai Davis, the fastest guy on the team, didn't make it. But surely I, 800-year-old Omar Vizquel, can swipe the bag!" Spoiler alert: He could not. In fact, after taking off for second, he stopped halfway there when he saw how badly he was beaten by Wieters's throw. He was quickly tagged out. Rack up 3 CS for Matt in five innings.
It's hard to decide which was worse for the Jays tonight: their baserunning or their fielding. In the third inning, they biffed away their 2-0 lead through defensive butchery. Toronto starter Brandon Morrow, fresh off the DL, gave up a leadoff single to Nick Markakis. The double play machine J.J. Hardy hit a comebacker that could've been a twin killing, but the ball tipped off Morrow's glove and bounded away for an infield hit. Nate McLouth was ordered to bunt-- the less said about that ridiculous decision, the better-- and fouled out, giving Morrow a chance to escape with a double-play ball. That's exactly what he got from Adam Jones...except that shortstop Yunel Escobar completely whiffed on the grounder, turning a possible two outs into zero as Markakis came home to score. Wieters followed with a game-tying sac fly.
Two innings later, the O's took the lead. Again the rally began with Markakis, who singled. Hardy then swatted a deep fly to right field that smacked the wall just a foot underneath the foul pole and only a few inches to the fair side. Hardy was credited with a double, but the umpires reviewed the play just to be safe. After McLouth whiffed, Jones came up with the clutch hit, looping a single to left field to plate both runners. 4-2 Orioles.
Morrow didn't make it out of the fifth inning. He left with four runs charged to him, though only two earned. He also left without MASN broadcasters Gary Thorne and Rick Dempsey ever figuring out how to pronounce his name correctly. It's "Morrow," guys. Not "Moreau." The accent is on the first syllable. It's such an easy name, too. As you'd imagine, they were completely helpless when it came to pronouncing "Encarnacion." I think they said it 10 different ways, none of them correct.
The Orioles piled on against Toronto's less-than-stellar bullpen. Hardy was in the center of things again in the sixth, lifting a two-run homer into the first row of the left-field seats off Chad Jenkins. It was part of a 3-for-4 night for J.J., and if he could finally get into a long-awaited hot streak, it would be a huge boon for the Birds down the stretch. But let's see if he can keep it up against pitching staffs that are better than Toronto's. Later in the sixth, Wieters delivered an RBI single.
The Birds completed their scoring on a Manny Machado RBI knock in the seventh, extending their lead to 8-2. It was a great night for the offense, as every Oriole in the lineup reached base, and all but McLouth had at least one hit.
Let's get back to Steve Johnson, who settled down in a big way after the shaky first inning. Buoyed by Wieters throwing out everyone in sight, Johnson faced just one batter over the minimum for his final five innings of work. Just as in his first start, Steve was surprisingly strikeout-happy, racking up 7 Ks against a depleted Jays lineup (which lost Jose Bautista after the first inning, as he re-aggravated the sore wrist that kept him on the DL for a month). I don't know quite how Johnson does it, since his stuff isn't overpowering, but he just gets people out. Looks like he's staked his claim on a rotation spot for the near future.
Luis Ayala worked two scoreless innings of relief, and as the skies opened over Camden Yards, Kevin Gregg struck out the side (!) in the ninth inning to quash any thoughts of a rain delay. Put another victory in the books for the Birds, who have now matched last year's win total.
Who was tonight's Most Birdland Player?
J.J. Hardy (3-for-4, HR, 2B, 2 RBI) (131 votes)
Steve Johnson (6 IP, 2 ER, 7 K) (165 votes)
Matt Wieters (2 RBI, 3 runners thrown out) (230 votes)
526 total votes