When the day began, there seemed to be no sure thing that there would even be a baseball game played in Baltimore. There was rain after all, and the game was delayed for a time, but the most meaningful rain came in the form of a pair of doubles by Matt Wieters, including the decisive tie-breaking run in the bottom of the 8th inning to power the Orioles to a 4-3 victory in the opening game of the series against the Royals.
The game was neither the cleanest nor the most interesting ever played, but a win is a win.
Things started off well for the Orioles, plating three runs in the first inning as they brought an end to a 13-inning scoreless streak by Ervin Santana. He was not sharp, and the Orioles took advantage with three straight singles by Manny Machado, Nick Markakis, and Adam Jones. Jones drove in the first run and Wieters drove in the others. The double by Wieters would be the last baserunner that the O's would get until there were two outs in the fifth inning, and Santana never looked vulnerable again.
On the other hand, there was Wei-Yin Chen, who never looked great, but always did just enough to stave off the damage, mostly thanks to getting bailed out by some sharp plays from the left side of his infield. Machado and J.J. Hardy each earned some highlight reel time in the process of getting three double plays started. Chen would scatter nine hits over 6.1 IP before the 48-minute rain delay chased him from the game. He'd thrown only 80 pitches and may have been able to notch a rare seven-inning start for an Orioles starter, but Mother Nature said it was not to be so.
Chen did not walk a batter and struck out two.
When the rains came, Miguel Tejada - who is still in baseball, I was shocked to find out, and is batting .368/.400/.421 after this game - was on first base. The monsoon arrived out of nowhere, drenching the field before they could even call play, even blowing rain into the press box. After the rain stopped, Brian Matusz took the mound. You might think you like Matusz against a lefty, but then, that's what we thought in the playoffs last year too, in ALDS game 3.
Despite lefties coming in with a .091 average against Matusz, Alex Gordon smacked a pitch onto the flag court. It was the textbook example of a pitcher missing his spot and a professional hitter making him pay. This tied the score at 3-3, after the Royals had scratched out a run on three singles in the third inning. The inherited runner was the first that Matusz had allowed to score since he was moved into the bullpen last year.
This took both starters out of the game without a chance to be the pitcher of record. Santana gave up seven hits over his six innings of work, with three earned runs, one walk, and four strikeouts.
The 7th inning stretch followed. The Orioles used the occasion to honor long-time usher Charles "Zillbilly" Zill, who passed away recently due to cancer. You might recognize Zill as the usher who would don overalls and bring out an orange fiddle to dance around during Thank God I'm A Country Boy. He was a fixture of Orioles games since 1997, and now he will grace Camden Yards with his presence no longer.
Nate McLouth tried to get something started in the bottom of the 7th inning, drawing a walk with one out and then stealing second base, but Machado and Markakis could not drive him in.
That didn't matter to the Orioles, with Jones opening up the bottom of the 8th with a rare walk - though it was his third consecutive game with a walk. Royals reliever Tim Collins tried to pick Jones off and instead threw the ball away, putting Jones on second. Chris Davis struck out looking - the pitch was a strike, but plate umpire Dale Scott irked Davis with a very delayed call, and that brought up the hero of the day, Wieters, would have to bat left-handed against the Kansas City equivalent of Brian Matusz (in disappointing pitching prospect terms) in Luke Hochevar.
Wieters has looked like absolute garbage left-handed, but he got two hits today, slicing a crucial double down the left field line to score Jones. Why would you play lefty-Wieters to slice the ball down the line? You wouldn't, because he is a big, strong man. But when he does slice the ball down the line, even he can cruise into second base, and Jones cruised home, and that was enough for tonight.
Jim Johnson pitched a 1-2-3 inning, drama-free, against the bottom of the Royals lineup, to notch his 12th save of the season. He has more saves than three teams have wins. The Orioles have a 20-13 record and are the farthest above .500 that they have been all season and, following a Boston loss, are one game back in the American League East.
Wednesday's weather forecast currently looks as dodgy as did today's, but the Orioles and Royals are scheduled to continue the series at 7:05. Chris Tillman will get the start for the Orioles as Luis Mendoza starts for the Royals.
A couple of post-game notes, hot off the presses from the Orioles:
* Since July 29, 2012, the Orioles' 61-33 record is the best in baseball, as is their home record (31-13) in that time.
* McLouth has safely reached base in 30 of his last 64 plate appearances.
* The Orioles are now 8-3 in the first game of a series.