September 9, 2012; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Orioles manager Buck Showalter (26) watches the action in the fourth inning against the New York Yankees at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
What can I say? That was an ugly game. There is no disputing that. Coupled with some other recent events, and some might think the O's are about to embark upon a 2002-esque end of season tail spin. But I beseech you, denizens of Birdland, to keep the faith. This team has come too far, for too long, defying all odds along the way to have you quit on them now. It's one game. A type of game we have seen a number of times previously this year; to teams as varied as the Rangers and the Twins. And yet, even after those games this team bounced back. When this team experienced injuries to key contributors someone else stepped up. When players were ineffective they were replaced. I expect these trends to continue.
Zach Britton looked pretty good through the first 3 innings. His fastball was sinking, his command was crisp (excepting a 1st inning walk issued to Nick Swisher), and he seemed to be in complete control. In the 4th inning, that all went horribly awry.
Alex Rodriguez led off the inning by nearly missing an opposite field home run. The ball struck the out of town scoreboard and bounced back to Chris Davis, who, in spite of bobbling the ball, held A-Rod to a single. Ok. Time to refocus, Zach and induce a nifty double play ball, mmkay? Oh....guess not....because then the flood gates opened. Robinson Cano, who came into the game hitting a meager .223/.281/.332 vs. LHP, would draw a walk and then advance to 2nd (with A-Rod advancing to 3rd) on a wild pitch that skipped under Matt Wieters' glove. Russell Martin, who came into the game hitting .205/.308/.382, would also stand around looking bored while Zach threw ball after ball into an area around, but no over, home plate. Martin would eventually walk to load the bases. Up to the dish steps former Bird, Steve Pearce. Pearce was in the lineup as a result of Mark Teixeira re-injuring his calf in yesterday night's game. And, much like Russell Martin, Pearce would stand around the plate looking bored while Zach threw the ball everywhere except over the plate. A 3rd consecutive walk would plate the Yankees' 2nd run of the game. Bases loaded, still none out. Ooof.
Zach would rebound, temporarily, by K-ing Andruw Jones, and one could dream of an inning ending double play ball to get out of the inning with limited damage. But the Yankees would not cooperate and Oriole things up. Instead, Jayson Nix would bloop a Jeter into centerfield, just out of the reach of Adam Jones, that would score another run. Ichiro would follow by Baltimore chopping a ball towards JJ Hardy. In spite of a quick throw, Ichiro would beat out a close play which Crew Chief Mike Winters correctly called. Another run scored and the bases remain loaded. A 4th walk of the inning would be issued to Jeter, and Zach would finally be on his way to hit the showers. We can bemoan Buck for having left Zach in there for too long, but let's not forget how quickly things deteriorated. It takes time for a pitcher to loosen and warm up. You can't just pull a pitcher instantly and call on the bullpen. Jake Arrieta would get loose as quick as possible. But Buck can't just stop the game until he's ready. It was on Britton to harden up and deal with the situation while he was out there. He wasn't up to the task today. Arrieta would eventually come in to face Nick Swisher and A-Rod, both of whom he would K. Nice job, JaKKe!
In the bottom half of the inning the O's bats would finally awaken from their early afternoon slumber. Nate McLouth would draw a lead off walk and JJ Hardy would earn a hit by pitch, putting runners on 1st and 2nd for long forgotten Wilson Betemit. Betemit does not have a plethora of redeeming qualities as a ball player. But one of those, the one that earns him multi-million dollar contracts, is his ability to hit RHP. And he would earn his paycheck by driving a bases clearing double into the RF gap. Matt Wieters would continue to torment the Yankees by driving Betemit in via a single into RF. All of the sudden, the Birds are right back in this thing, 5-3, Mark Reynolds was coming to the plate, and Joe Girardi was frantically flipping through the pages of his binder in search of an answer. The answer he found would be Joba Chamberlain. Awesome!, right?. Well, no. Unfortunately, there would be no Birdland! moment here, as Home Plate ump Jerry Meals would call a 3rd strike on a ball that was well outside and low. Wrapper would express his dissatisfaction with the call while lingering around the plate for a moment but there would be no redemption. Robot umpires. Robot umpires.
As mentioned earlier, Jake Arrieta returned from his exile to AAAA-ville. Making his first career appearance in relief he would put up 3 encouraging innings before returning to old bad-Jake form. The two Ks to end the 4th, followed by a 3 batter 5th where he allowed a lead off single to Robinson Cano, but induced Russell Martin to GIDP. So, not bad! Maybe he's figured out the root cause of his previous struggles! Let's see how he handles the pinch-hitting Curtis Granderson. *BOOM* Oh....shucks. 1st pitch oppo-boppo, just out of the reach of Adam Jones, who made a valiant effort by timing his jump perfectly and scaling the wall in front of the bullpens. But Jake would refocus, and set the next three batters down via 2 Ks sandwiching a ground out. Game's still not out of reach. Heart of the order coming up for the Birds! Let's put some runs on the board, boys!
Or not. After a 1 out Adam Jones single, Matt Wieters would produce (or perhaps abort is the more telling verb) one of the most pathetic at bats I've seen this entire season. Three straight flailing swings at junk in the dirt and the ostensible SHJ was on his way back to the dugout. Mark Reynolds' momma didn't raise no fool though. Wrapper, who, although he likes to swing the bat with a mighty force doesn't hack away, would draw a 4 pitch walk. 1st and 2nd, 2 outs! Great opportunity to cut into the deficit. Or, a great opportunity to hack and flail away in a most ridiculous manner. Chris Davis must have watched Matt Wieters' at bat and taken it as a personal challenge to have an even more pathetic at bat. And he may have succeeded. Just ugly. Swinging at 3 pitches that were nowhere near the strike zone. Inning over. Rally snuffed. Hope obliterated.
The Yankees would go on to put up an additional 7 runs on the bullpen. Whatever. We've all seen this before. It's why the much ballyhoo'd Run Differential is so caddywhompass. Win close games, lose blowouts. When the game is out of hand, Buck ain't concerned with the final score. Let Kevin Gregg get some work in. Ho hum. The Yankees could have stayed stuck on 6 runs, the O's weren't coming back to tie or win it. The game basically ended on those at bats by Matt and Chris.
Additional note: Nate McLouth assumed the role of lead off hitter in the absence of Nick Markakis, and he didn't disappoint. 0-2, but he did draw 2 walks, stole a base, and scored a run.
Huge series vs. the Tampa Bay Devil Rays coming up. Last home series before embarking on a West Coast roadie to Oakland and Seattle. Good news: the O's don't have to face either David Price or 'Big Game' James Shields. Bad news: TB has been red-hot of late, and the pitchers the O's do face are all pretty good in their own right; Matt Moore, Alex Cobb, and Jeremy Hellickson.
All is not lost Birdland. This one was certainly a stinker. But this club has banked enough wins that dreaming on the playoffs is still quite reasonable, even in spite of worrisome starting pitching, shaky bullpen performance from Pedro Strop, and the loss of Nick Markakis. There are plenty of winnable games. Just hang on through that West Coast swing and then lay the smack down on the lowly Blue Jays and Red Sox who comprise 10 of the O's last 22 game opponents.