The Baltimore Orioles are 14 games over .500 on August 28. Is this really happening?
The Birds thumped the previously sizzling White Sox again with a resounding victory that saw two members of the "cavalry" combine on a shutout, every O's batter get on base, and Chicago manage a grand total of two hits-- neither one of which left the infield.
And the O's pulled off their impressive feat against one of the most impressive pitchers in the majors, White Sox lefty Chris Sale. He entered the night with a 15-4 record and tidy 2.65 ERA, only to end up battered and beaten by the juggernaut that is the Baltimore Orioles.
For the first six batters of the game, Sale lived up to his formidable hype, mixing his pitches and throwing off hitters' balance. He struck out four consecutive batters in the first and second innings, keeping batters fooled with his herky-jerky, three-quarters delivery. Sale is the kind of pitcher that announcers would say "has a lot of moving parts," which is a phrase I've never totally understood. Does he have more moving parts than any other pitcher? As far as I can tell, he's just like any other human. He doesn't have extra parts. He's no Antonio Alfonseca.
Anyway, Sale was cruising...until he wasn't. All of a sudden, he hit a wall with two outs in the second inning, as if he were suddenly possessed by the ghost of Brad Pennington. Look, even if Brad Pennington isn't dead, it's still an apt analogy. Nate McLouth got the rally started with a bloop single to right field, and then he tried to steal second base and ended up at third on A.J. Pierzynski's terrible throw. The error didn't really matter, since Sale ended up walking the next two hitters to load the bases for Nick Markakis.
Before I could finish saying, "Don't get impatient, Nick; let's work the count," Markakis swung at Sale's very first offering and smashed it to deep center field. The ball sailed over DeWayne Wise and rolled to the wall. One run is in! Two runs are in! And...three runs are in! It's a bases-clearing, three-run double for Markakis, staking the Birds to a 3-0 lead. Man, this is fun.
After that huge hit, the wind was let out of Chris's Sales. AHAHAHA get it?? ...I will never do that again, I promise. In the third, Sluggin' Lew Ford bashed a solo homer into the left-field seats, his second blast in as many nights. It's the first time Ford has homered in back-to-back games since 2005. Where do the Orioles find these guys, and how did they all become amazing?
The O's collected two more hits in the fourth, but didn't score. Still, they had scarred Sale so badly that he didn't return to the mound in the fifth. His four-inning start was the shortest of his season-- the Birds tagged him for four runs and six hits, working him for 75 pitches.
Indeed, there was a much more impressive Chris on the mound tonight. Chris Tillman delivered one of the finest starts of his career-- a scoreless seven-inning, one-hit masterpiece. I'll say that again: ONE HIT. And a debatable one at that. It wasn't a flawless outing-- as usual, Tillman had a few moments that made us say, "Really, Chris?" But you can't argue with the results.
Tillman easily retired the first seven batters of the game before walking Alexei Ramirez on four pitches in the third. In the middle innings, Tillman's control seemed to elude him a bit-- especially the fourth, when he fell behind in the count 3-0 to the first two batters and 2-0 to another. Really, Chris? But after two walks, he retired Pierzynski on a first-pitch groundout to escape trouble.
Tillman's best escape came in the fifth. The first batter of the inning, Dayan Viciedo, tapped a weakly-hit nubber toward short. J.J. Hardy charged the ball and tried to make a barehanded pickup, only to fumble it. The official scorer ruled it a hit, determining that Viciedo probably would've beaten out the play anyway. I'm not so sure about that. It was a tough play, but one that the surehanded Hardy normally makes. Had the scorer known then what he knows now, he might've made a different ruling. It ended up being the only hit Tillman would allow.
Ramirez followed with another four-pitch walk, putting two runners on base with nobody out and bringing a mound visit from Rick Adair. That seemed to jolt Tillman back into Awesome Mode. He dispatched the next three hitters in short order, with the runners never advancing.
That began a string on nine consecutive batters retired by Tillman, the final nine he would face. With his pitch count at 109 after seven innings, he exited the mound to a big ovation from the small Camden Yards crowd of 12,841. What a performance by Tillman.
On the same day that Erik Bedard was released by the Pirates, the two key players the O's acquired in the Bedard trade came up huge. Not just Tillman, but also Adam Jones, who smacked a homerun over the right-field scoreboard off Philip Humber in the seventh. That, ladies and gents, was Adam's 100th career homerun, and it's been a long time coming-- it snapped a career-worst 110-at-bat homerless drought for Jones. Hope it lifts a weight off his shoulders.
A Manny Machado sac fly in the sixth accounted for the Orioles' other run, and they took their 6-0 lead into the eighth. Tillman was replaced by his BFF Brian Matusz, marking the first time they've ever appeared in a major-league game together. Matusz was just as filthy as Tillman, striking out the first two batters he faced in a perfect eighth inning. Adam Dunn reached on an infield hit in the ninth (hitting a grounder to the left side, against the shift), but Matusz erased him on a game-ending, shutout-clinching double play. And another win is in the books for the Birds.
What a game. What a team. I can't wait to see how this all plays out.