When an upstart team unexpectedly finds itself in first place on September 7 on the heels of fourteen straight losing seasons, it naturally has its detractors. It is a constant struggle to silence them, to say, "We earned this. We belong." Sometimes, however, without performance mere will is not enough.
Almost a week after watching a fine performance frittered away by Pedro Strop's evil twin, Wei-Yin Chen took the bump against the Yankees yet again and it was not unreasonable to wonder how he would respond. Early returns were favorable as he moved though the first inning 1-2-3 on 11 pitches. Homer happy Phil Hughes was starting for the Yankees and given the recent form of the Orioles offense, one couldn't help but hope for a second straight win over the hated Yankees. After Nick Markakis grounded out to start to the game, J.J. Hardy singled. Hardy's single was followed by a double from Nate McLouth, but somehow the Orioles failed to score. With runners on second and third, Adam Jones flied out to second and Matt Wieters flied out to center. Chen continued more or less without incident until it all, inexplicably, went pear shaped in the 4th.
Chen hit Nick Swisher to lead off the inning and subsequently walked Robinson Cano. After striking out Alex Rodriguez, Chen would give up a no douibt about it three run shot to Russell Martin. Chen would strike out Curtis Granderson in the next at bat, but leave the door a crack open for the Yankees again. Chen would allow a single to Andruw Jones and then, Team Evil Steve would have its revenge. Steve Pearce, fleeting Oriole, one of the most DFA'd players in the league this year, hit a home run off of Chen to left field. Nate McLouth seemed to appeal for a fan interference call, but to no avail (though replays seemed to show that McLouth didn't have a good line on the ball, he certainly had the ups and the reach to potentially make the play). Chen would allow another home run with two outs in the 5th, thus ending his night.
If you thought the game was over when the O's were down 7-0, you clearly haven't been paying attention this season. In the bottom of the 6th, the on base duo of Hardy and McLouth would again set up Adam Jones, and this time, the doctor delivered. Jones took Hughes deep on the first pitch he saw for an Earl Weaver special into the bullpen area. With the score narrowed to 7-3, you had to wonder if the O's could get it done one more time. In the bottom of the 7th, Robert Andino homered in his second straight game for his seventh homer of the year to narrow the score to 7-4. It should be noted that a major reason the Orioles were given a shot to chip away at the Yankees lead was on account of another outstanding relief appearance from seldom used rookie Steve Johnson. Johnson would pitch 3 scoreless innings of relief allowing one hit and striking out 3 before yielding to Brian Matusz. Matusz was also solid, but after getting the third out in the 8th and the first in the 9th, was lifted for Luis "the Human Coin Toss" Ayala after allowing a base hit to Ichiro. Ichiro would advance to second on a ground out and then score after Derek Jeter scorched a liner that Robert Andino wasn't able to handle.
Rafael Soriano was brought on by Girardi in the 9th and made quick work of Reynolds, Davis and Andino with a well hit parting shot by Manny Machado, his 4th, wedged in between. Tonight the O's would fall short and fall a game back in the AL East. Not to be too much of pollyanna, here, but just saying that on September 7, 2012 is pretty amazing.
Tomorrow at 7:05, the O's send Joe Saunders to the mound to face off against Carsten Charles Crooked Cap.