It's September 29th. The Orioles honored the greatest defensive third baseman in baseball history. The Camden Yards seats were sold out with 46,311 exuberant fans. The O's battled to yet another one-run victory, and with four games remaining, they are tied for first place in the AL East and their magic number to clinch a playoff spot is just 2.
Life is good.
The Orioles couldn't have paid tribute to Brooks Robinson any better than they did tonight. It's not just that they won-- it's how they won. The O's put on a spectacular show with the leather in several critical situations, and every Red Sox hitter they kept off base loomed large in a back-and-forth game that could change momentum on any given pitch. OK, there was one dropped fly ball, but otherwise the Birds played their hearts out in a game they desperately needed to win, deadlocking the Yankees and maintaining some breathing room over three wild-card competitors who don't ever seem to lose.
It was the top of the second inning when the O's defense began eliminating Boston baserunners. Cody Ross led off with a single but failed to heed the well-established adage: Don't ever run on Matt Wieters, ever, you dope. I believe it was Confucius who coined that one. Ross was thrown out by a mile as he tried to swipe second, helping Steve Johnson to a scoreless frame.
The Orioles grabbed the game's first lead in the bottom half of that inning. Red Sox starter Felix Doubront nailed Chris Davis in the back with a pitch, which was perhaps pre-retribution (pretribution?) for what Davis would do to him later. With Mark Reynolds at the plate, Davis just took off for second before Doubront even began his windup, getting such a huge jump that he strolled into the bag while a flustered Felix delivered a loping pitch in the dirt. Reynolds followed with a tapper down the third-base line that Doubront fielded but then dropped for an infield single. This was not Felix Doubront's finest inning. Manny Machado then grounded an RBI single into center field, though an overanxious Reynolds was thrown out trying to take third.
The Birds took the 1-0 lead into the fourth, and that's when they delivered Spectacular Brooks Robinson-esque Play #1. With a man on first and one down, Cody Ross hit a sharp grounder down the third-base line. Machado ranged to his right to pick it, and-- with his momentum carrying him into foul territory-- he somehow delivered a strong enough throw to second base that Robert Andino had time to relay to first to complete the impressive double play. Nice!
In the bottom of the fourth, the O's padded their lead when (after a Mike Aviles error put a man aboard) Davis walloped a two-run homer into the center-field bleachers, his 30th of the year. He joins Adam Jones in the Orioles' 30-homerun club this year. He also joins Chris Richard and Corey Patterson as players who have hit exactly 32 homeruns in their Orioles career! So...you know, make of that what you will. Anyway-- it's been a fine season, Chris.
The Birds' 3-0 lead, though, was soon erased. The Sox got a pair of runs back in the fourth when Jarrod Saltalamacchia mashed a two-run homer off Johnson. However, that inning ended on Spectacular Brooks Robinson-esque Play #2. Aviles flared a foul pop-up off to the right side toward the stands. Reynolds never gave up pursuit even as he approached the rolled-up tarp, and he ended up making a lunging, diving grab while simultaneously toppling headfirst over the tarp, somehow clinging to the ball for the out. Simply incredible.
Johnson worked himself into trouble in the sixth by allowing a leadoff single to Jacoby Ellsbury and then walking Scott Podsednik. Buck Showalter turned to the fresh arm of Tommy Hunter to face the dangerous Dustin Pedroia. Pedroia grounded to second on the first pitch, though it wasn't hit sharply enough for the O's to complete the double play. With runners at the corners and one out, Ross lifted a fly ball to right-center. It was plenty deep enough that Ellsbury would've tagged and scored anyway, but the Orioles made it look ugly when Jones and Davis ran into each other and the ball popped out of Chris's glove, giving the Red Sox an extra baserunner and tying the game. Ouch. Hopefully Brooks was taking a bathroom break and missed that woeful defensive play. Still, the error didn't cost the Orioles, because the next batter grounded into an inning-ending double play that was nicely started by Hunter.
Hunter worked a scoreless seventh to set the table for the Birds to get the lead back. The wunderkind Machado did the honors, tagging Doubront for a leadoff homer in the seventh that couldn't have gotten more than 15 feet off the ground at any point. Seriously, that was a line-drive laser into the first row of seats in left. Even radio broadcaster Fred Manfra, who's been known to go into his homerun call for shallow pop-ups, was surprised that that one got out. But it did, whipping the Camden Yards crowd into a frenzy once more. I love Manny Machado.
The O's later put runners on second and third with one out, but couldn't plate them. The final out was recorded when Jones clearly checked his swing on an 0-2 pitch but was inexplicably rung up by home plate Greg Gibson, who didn't even check with the first-base ump who had a much better angle. It was a terrible, unfortunate call, but luckily it didn't factor into the outcome.
The Birds' stellar bullpen made the one-run lead hold up. Brian Matusz and Darren O'Day combined on a perfect eighth, and closer Jim Johnson took care of business as usual in the ninth. He got some help from right fielder Endy Chavez, who rushed forward and made a great diving catch to rob Mauro Gomez of a one-out hit. Thank you, Spectacular Brooks Robinson-esque Play #3! Saltalamacchia flied out to end the game, sending the sellout crowd-- and all six Orioles legends in attendance-- home happy. And with the Yankees' loss in Toronto earlier in the day, the O's are back in a first-place tie for the division crown. These final four games of the regular season are going to be wild.