The Baltimore Orioles won today, 6-3, completing a three-game sweep of the Boston Red Sox. The game was great, but I want to start with something that happened after it ended. As most of you probably know, a win today combined with a loss from the Los Angeles Angels would have resulted in a clinched playoff spot for the O's. When the game in Baltimore wrapped up, the Rangers held a 4-3 lead over the Angels in Texas in the 9th inning. As the Orioles shook hands on the field, the big screen in center field tuned in to the game in Arlington. Of the 41K plus in the stands today, most of them remained. And instead of going into the clubhouse to watch the game, all of the Orioles remained on the field to watch on the big screen with their fans.
As Joe Nathan struggled to keep control of the game, the fans cheered every strike he threw and groaned when batters reached base. The players huddled together, hoping for the chance to celebrate their playoff berth with everyone in the stands.
Alas, it wasn''t meant to be. Nathan blew the save and the Angels went on to win. After Torii Hunter singled in the go-ahead run, the Orioles players began to file towards the dugout. The fans gave them a thunderous ovation and the players waved to everyone, visibly disappointed.
The Orioles will almost certainly get to the playoffs this year. They could even clinch later tonight if the Angels lose the second game of their double header. Our moment was lost when Torii Hunter singled, but the sentiment of the moment remains important. This team isn't like some other playoff-bound teams. They know that what they're doing isn't just for them. They understand what it means to these fans, this city. And for a moment, the players and fans were ready to celebrate together. Now they'll clinch in another city, but that's ok. We'll be here waiting to welcome them upon their return.
And for the actual game?
In today's gamethread, my esteemed colleague Mark wrote that if you're going to be a contending team, pitcher like Zach Stewart are pitchers that you MUST dominate. We've seen the Orioles fail to dominate a scrub pitcher *coughLaffey* as recently as a week ago, but tonight the Orioles took Mark's words to heart and knocked Stewart out of the game after just 2 2/3 innings.
On the flip side of things was Joe Saunders, trying to get the win for the Orioles. And while he had a bit of trouble with the long, he put together a solid outing of 7 1/3 innings, and left to a thunderous ovation from the crowd of over 41K that packed Camden Yards.
Saunders first inning was so quick that many of the fans hadn't had a chance to get to their seats before he'd induced two fly outs and one line out to Manny Machado at third base on just 10 pitches. And as quickly as Saunders sat down the Red Sox, that's how quickly the Orioles started scoring runs.
Nate McLouth continued his hot hitting with a home run off of Stewart to give the Orioles a 1-0 lead, and that was just the beginning of the rally. J.J. Hardy, playing on his bobblehead day (isn't he adorable?) was up next and singled to center field. The hot hot Chris Davis also singled, and Adam Jones was hit with a pitch to load the bases with no outs. Perfect chance to break it open!
Unfortunately for the rally, Matt Wieters picked that time to ground into a double play. Hardy came in to score from third base, but now there was just a runner at third and two outs. Sigh. Jim Thome came to the plate looking to knock in the lone runner left on base. The Red Sox employed the usual shift against him, so instead of trying to mash a tater, Thome simply hit the ball the other way. It rolled right past where the shortstop would normally play and Davis came in to score the O's third run of the inning. Mark Reynolds hit a bullet to left field but it was caught for the final out.
After a 1-2-3 second inning, the O's bats were back in action in the third. Hardy connected for his 22nd homer of the season to lead off, and after Jones singled and stole second base, Thome knocked him with another single. Reynolds drew a two-out walk before Ryan Flaherty struck out to end the inning.
Through the first three innings, Saunders allowed two baserunners, both doubles. But since he gave up one each in the second and third innings, it didn't do any damage. That wasn't the case in the third inning, when the first batter up, Cody Ross, homered to left field to cut the lead to just four runs. After Mauro Gomez hit a liner to Machado for the first out, Danny Valencia singled up the middle. Thankfully he was wiped out on an inning-ending double play off the bat of Ryan Lavarnway.
The O's got that run back in the 5th inning thanks to Chris Davis' 31st home run of the season. First Davis hit a foul ball that traveled approximately two miles before straightening it out and going over the center field fence. It was Davis's fourth consecutive game with a home run, a mark that was matched earlier this season by...Nolan Reimold? Oh, what could have been...
The Red Sox got two runs back in the seventh inning, again on a home run. With one out, Lavernway hit a weak single that went through to center field, and was on board when Daniel Nava homered to make the score 6-3 in favor of the Orioles. The damage could have been worse as, after the homer, Pedro Ciriaco singled. Thankfully he was picked off by Matt Wieters in a rundown that went 2-4-6-3-4 (if you're scoring at home).
The rest of the game was uneventful as the Orioles bullpen shut down the Red Sox and Jim Johnson secured his 50th save of the season with an easy 1-2-3 inning. Now the Orioles go to Tampa Bay to play the final three games of the season. They remain in a tie for first place (the Yankees had a comeback win against the Blue Jays today) and at least one game up for the first wild card spot.
Just keep winning.