You hear the phrase "on paper" a lot in the sports world. For example, "On paper, the Red Sox were one of the best teams in the American League going into 2012." Well, on paper this was the game that the Orioles were supposed to lose this series. The other ones were a toss up, this one was a definite loss. On paper.
In reality, Miguel Gonzalez pitched 7 shutout innings with a career high 9 strikeouts. In reality, Mark Reynolds hit two home runs and made two web gems at first base. In reality, the Orioles kicked the crap out of the Yankees tonight and now sit just two games back of first place in the AL East.
The reason that so many gave the Yankees the edge tonight was Hiroki Kuroda, and there is no doubt that he's a very good pitcher. Even in a game when he gave up four runs it was evident.
After a three-batter first inning, the Orioles put up three runs against Kuroda in the second. Back-to-back singles by Adam Jones and Matt Wieters got the inning started, and sacrifice fly from Chris Davis put them on the board. Left fielder Raul Ibanez made a weak throw that trickled towards home plate and allowed Wieters to move up to second. Smart base running, but it didn't matter in the end. Mark Reynolds fulfilled his promise in the next at-bat, hitting a two-run homer into the second deck in left field. It was just the start of a fantastic night for Reynolds.
Other than that rally, the first five innings of this game flew by thanks to great pitching from both Gonzalez and Kuroda. The Yankees didn't get their first hit until the fourth inning when Derek Jeter singled with no outs, and the Yankees tried some shenanigans to mess up Gonzalez. Jeter was barking from first base, Joe Girardi was barking from the dugout. It's not clear what their problem was (other than they thought it was unfair that they were losing), maybe they were saying Gonzalez wasn't on the rubber or that he balked. But their tactics did not work and Gonzalez responded by striking out Nick Swisher and Robinson Cano. A fly out from Granderson and Jeter was stranded.
Kuroda bounced back from his messy second inning with 1-2-3 innings in the third, fourth, and fifth. But in the sixth inning the Orioles got to him again. First, Markakis hit a ground ball to second base. It got away from Cano but Nick was lollygagging down the line and was still thrown out. It'll be forgotten since the O's won so decisively, but it was a major brain fart on his part. It especially looked bad when J.J. Hardy followed it with his 18th home run of the year. The 4-0 lead was more than enough with the way Gonzalez was pitching.
The biggest trouble of the night for Gonzalez came in the sixth inning, and because of the way he escaped it might also have been his most impressive inning of the night. He came into the inning with just 55 pitches through five, having racked up 7 strikeouts with just one one hit allowed. But in the sixth a single and a wild pitch put Ichiro Suzuki on second base, and Gonzalez walked Jayson Nix (of all people). Jeter followed with a ground ball to third base, fielded by Manny Machado. Machado went to second for the first out, his throw just a little off line. Omar Quintanilla made a bad throw to first base that Reynolds had to dive off first to keep in front of him.
The double play was lost and now the Yankees had runners on the corners with two outs. We've all seen the Yankees score five runs in about ten seconds, so things were getting scary. Well, scary to me. Gonzalez didn't seem to mind, as he bounced back to strike out Swisher (again) for the second out, and get out of the jam completely thanks to a first-pitch pop up from Cano. Masterful!
Gonzalez gave up two more singles in the seventh inning, but held on to preserve his shutout. And with the shutdown Orioles bullpen, they were in a fantastic position to take game one. That didn't stop them from adding on a few more runs in the ninth, though.
To Kuroda's credit, he pitched into the ninth inning tonight. After retiring Matt Wieters for the first out, Kuroda was at 99 pitches and didn't look to be in trouble. But Girardi decided to get cute with his bullpen management. He brought in former Oriole Clay Rapada to face Chris Davis. Davis grounded out, and again Girardi went to the bullpen. This time he brought in Derek Lowe, the pitcher who was so bad that even the Cleveland Indians didn't want him.
The Orioles had faced Lowe twice when he was with the Indians, giving up a total of 16 runs in 8 1/3 innings. Their domination of him continued tonight, as the first batter he faced was Reynolds, who greeted him with his second homer of the night. Three consecutive singles resulted in one more run and a 6-0 Orioles lead. Thanks, Joe Girardi!
Brian Matusz came in to pitch the 9th inning and was victim of an FUHR from Curtis Granderson. It's nice to see other teams being the ones having to resort to FUHRs, isn't it? Other than that Matusz didn't allow a baserunner, and he struck out Ibanez to end the game.
In just about an hour and a half it will be September 1st, and the Orioles sit two games out of 2nd place. Wow.
I'll leave you tonight with the Mark Reynolds highlight reel: