The Orioles secured their fifth series win of the season tonight with a 4-3 victory over R.A. Dickey and the Toronto Blue Jays. They got a good start from Miguel Gonzalez (although he did not reach the promised land of 7 IP) and got to Dickey for four runs in the second inning to get just enough runs for the win.
Gonzalez picked up where Chris Tillman left off last night, and I gotta say, it's much easier to be a baseball fan when your team has effective starting pitching. Gonzalez retired the first six batters he faced, throwing just 23 pitches through the first two innings.
Gonzalez's counterpart, Dickey, wasn't as good. The last time the Orioles faced him, Dickey pitched a complete game against them with just one hit and thirteen strikeouts. Honestly, I expected more of the same tonight, despite Dickey's slow start to the 2013 season. Happily, I was wrong. The Orioles started the second inning with three consecutive singles by Adam Jones, Chris Davis, and Matt Wieters. The last one resulted in a run to give the Orioles the lead, and they weren't finished.
J.J. Hardy popped up for the first out, then Dickey walked Ryan Flaherty to load the bases. Nolan Reimold hit a ball to left center that didn't have enough oomph to get out of the park, but it did allow Chris Davis to tag up and score the O's second run of the night.
Dickey's pitches were all over the place and he issued his second walk of the inning to Nate McLouth, which reloaded the bases and brought Manny Machado to the plate. Manny sent the first pitch he saw back up the middle, just out of reach of the shortstop Munenori Kawasaki. Wieters and Flaherty raced home (well, as much as Wieters can race) with the third and fourth runs of the inning. Markakis grounded out to end things, but it was a great inning for the O's. And as it turns out, it was the only offense they'd muster on the entire night.
Armed with a four-run lead, Gonzalez went back to work. He got out of trouble in both the third and fourth innings thanks to a double play in each, then pitched a great 1-2-3 fifth inning.
The Orioles tried to rally in the fifth inning thanks to a one-out double by Machado, his second hit of the night, and a walk by Markakis. But neither Jones nor Davis could capitalize on the opportunity, and just one inning later it looked like it might come back to haunt them.
Gonzalez got two quick outs to start the sixth inning, but then things fell apart in a hurry. He walked Adam Lind and Jose Bautista. That prompted a visit from pitching coach Rick Adair. I don't know what he said out there, but I'm willing to bet it wasn't, "Throw a first pitch fastball that Edwin Encarnacion can smoke for a three-run homer," but that's what Gonzalez did after Adair returned to the dugout. Oops.
Up by just one run at that point, Gonzalez gave up a long hit to Melky Cabrera. Adam Jones raced back towards the wall with Markakis coming over to back up. Jones leaped but couldn't get to the ball and it took a weird hop then kicked off of Jones' leg or foot and squirted away from both players. It looked like Cabrera might be on his way to an inside-the-park homer, but he ran out of gas at third base and was held. It was lucky that he did, because a faster runner would have scored easily. Gonzalez got Brett Lawrie to line out for the third out and strand Cabrera, and the O's found themselves playing in another close game.
The Orioles hitters weren't able to add on any more runs, so once again it was down to the bullpen to hold a slim lead. Brian Matusz pitched the seventh inning and looked fantastic, but was taken out after walking the leadoff batter in the eighth. When Rajai Davis was announced as a pinch hitter for Lind, Buck Showalter went to Pedro Strop. And as is often the case with Strop, it was an adventure.
Rajai Davis bunted DeRosa over to second base for the first out, then Jose Bautista grounded out to shortstop with DeRosa going to third. Strop then walked Encarnacion, and he either completely lost the strike zone or was pitching around Encarnacion. I'd believe either. But then he went 2-0 on Cabrera and things got scary. He worked the count full on Melky, then threw a pitch that was very close to the strike zone, but according to PitchFX, just barely a ball. Cabrera started towards first as the home plate umpire rung him up. Lucky break for the O's.
With that, the Orioles just needed Jim Johnson to shut things down. Mr. Reliable was filthy tonight, despite giving up a two-out single to Maicer Izturis. He ended the game with a fantastic strikeout of J.P. Arencibia, sealing the win and clinching another series victory.