Apparently, being an expectant father is good for your stat line. Or something. Miguel Gonzalez had one of the most dominant performances of his career tonight, flashing some of his best stuff and pairing it with excellent command. The Orioles needed that, as they once again struggled to score off of Jason Vargas, but this time managed to come away with the win in the end.
The O's helped Gonzalez set the Angels down in order in the first, as Mike Trout and Josh Hamilton both hit the ball hard. However, Manny Machado made a nice diving stop on Trout's grounder - and still threw him out, impossible without Manny's arm strength - and Adam Jones ran down Hamilton's long flyball. In the bottom of the inning, Machado singled to right with one down, and J.J. Hardy hit a long fly ball to center, but Peter Bourjos made a tremendous catch to rob Hardy of a two-run homer. It was strangely reminiscent of last year, as Hardy helped add to Mike Trout's amazing season when the rookie also pulled a home run back over the wall at Camden Yards. With Adam Jones up and two down, Machado got picked off at first base, ending the inning.
The baseball gods began to have bit of a laugh in the second. Miguel Gonzalez started things off by striking out Mark Trumbo, but then gave up a bloop single to Howie Kendrick. Just as Birdland began to groan about cheap hits, Erick Aybar lined the first pitch he saw right to Chris Davis, who stepped on first base for the double play. Then, in the bottom of the inning, Jones and Davis each attempted to beat out an infield hit; Jones may have been safe but didn't get the call, while Davis was definitely out but called safe. Matt Wieters and Danny Valencia both made outs, though, ending the inning.
In the fourth inning, the Angels put the first run of the game onto the scoreboard, as Mike Trout hit a leadoff solo shot to deep center. More weirdness ensued in the bottom half of the inning, when J.J. Hardy got called out on fan interference - an Angels fan reached over onto the field of play down the left-field line and prevented Mike Trout from catching a foul ball. Later, in the sixth, Peter Bourjos hit a sharp grounder right back to Miguel Gonzalez. Gonzalez, committed to getting outs by any and all means, deflected it with his rear end and threw in time to first, despite Bourjos's speed. Nick Markakis followed that play with a tough grab up against the wall in foul territory. I'm not sure which was more impressive: the catch, or the fact that he managed to make it without getting hurt.
Ryan Flaherty led off the bottom of the inning and slapped an opposite-field single to try to start a rally. Markakis followed him with an 0-2 line-drive single to the right-center gap, which Bourjos bobbled, giving the O's runners on second and third with no outs and their best scoring chance of the night. Manny Machado grounded to second, but with the Angels' infield playing back, that was enough to score a run, tie the game, and move Markakis to third with one out. Hardy and Jones both grounded out as well, though, and with the Angels' infield now playing in, the game remained tied, 1-1.
The baseball gods returned to sow chaos and absurdity in the seventh. Miguel Gonzalez began the inning by walking Albert Pujols on four pitches. He then struck out Mark Trumbo on three. After that, Howie Kendrick managed an extended at-bat, but Gonzalez won the battle, getting a comebacker to start a 1-6-3 double play. In the bottom half, Danny Valencia, Steve Pearce, and Ryan Flaherty managed back-to-back-to-back infield hits with two down. Yes, you read that correctly. This ended Jason Vargas's night, and Mike Scioscia turned to lefty reliever Scott Downs to face Nick Markakis. Nick came through with the big hit of the night, a two-run line-drive single to center. Righty Michael Kohn came in to face Manny Machado, but Manny struck out and wasn't able to add onto the O's new 3-1 lead.
Gonzalez went back to work in the eighth and had an easy 1-2-3 inning, ending with ninety-six pitches. While I think most everyone - except perhaps the Angels - wanted to see Miguel go for the complete game, Buck called upon Jim Johnson to pitch the ninth. Johnson, of course, knows that no Oriole victory is complete without a scary moment or two, and after two quick outs, Josh Hamilton laced a double to the right-field scoreboard. Pujols followed that up with a bounder up the middle, and suddenly the Angels had the tying run on first base. Johnson, having fulfilled the team's obligation to make Birdland nervous at least once per game, got ahead of Mark Trumbo 0-2 on three inside pitches, and then froze him with a fastball on the outside corner. O's win, 3-2.
The Red Sox lost tonight, and as I write, the A's are leading the Yankees in Oakland, 2-0, top 4. The Orioles have thus picked up a game in the AL East standings, now sitting 2.5 games behind the Red Sox, and perhaps just one game behind the Yankees if the A's can maintain their lead. Tomorrow, in an early 12:35 start, Jason Hammel will oppose Jerome Williams.