There is an alternate universe wherein the 1996 Orioles, unencumbered by the Jeffrey Maier play, went on to win the World Series. In that universe, it is the Yankees franchise that turned into an overpriced, underachieving team for the next decade or more, while the Orioles quality still shines on. I have often wondered what that universe might look like. Tonight's 11-3 victory over the Yankees, with Chris Davis hitting two home runs to blast a team stocked with a number of possibly washed-up guys off the playing field, was a glimpse into that universe.
Though the final scoreboard totals make it look like an Orioles victory was inevitable, this was not the case. The top of the first inning saw the bases loaded against Zach Britton after three ground balls snuck through the infield. The usual Orioles starter disaster loomed large, but Britton escaped the jam with no runs crossing the plate. The BABIP dragon was unkind to him: all of the grounders resulted in base hits with the fly balls and line drives bringing the outs.
Thanks to that escape, the Orioles came up to the plate with a chance to take the lead. That's when the fun began. After Nate McLouth popped out foul - he was the only Oriole starter not to get a hit tonight - the O's got three straight singles by Manny Machado, Nick Markakis, and Adam Jones. The Jones single was a ground ball that barely snuck by Yankees third baseman David Adams. They can't all be Machado. Jones got an RBI, and two men were on for Chris Davis against Yankees starter David Phelps.
Phelps, we were helpfully informed before the game by the Buck/McCarver broadcasting tandem, struggles in the first inning and then tends to settle down. What kind of things might a pitcher who struggles in the first inning do? Say, do you think he might leave a hanging slider out over the plate, just about belt-high, against a left-handed batter who crushes right-handed pitching?
The swing was one of those where you knew the ball was gone off the bat. The ball landed in the Orioles bullpen, with the relievers scattering instead of their usual game of trying to catch the homer. Relievers took cover like there was incoming mortar fire as the ball ricocheted off the bench and around like a pinball. This Earl Weaver Special was the 29th home run of the season for Davis, and put the Orioles ahead 4-0.
As the Yankees offense found little traction against Britton, the Orioles kept scoring. The third inning brought Davis to the plate again. Phelps wanted no part of him, and he walked. Matt Wieters followed that up with a single, and J.J. Hardy walked to load the bases. Chris Dickerson delivered a two-run single, no small feat as it scored Wieters from second with less than two out.
Up to the plate came Ryan Flaherty. He has to know his days as a starting second baseman are numbered, because Brian Roberts will be back tomorrow. Flaherty will not go quietly. He swatted one last poor pitch from Phelps onto the flag court, the second three-run homer of the game for the O's, to make the score 9-0 and chase Phelps from the game.
Flaherty has now hit safely in eight straight games and, after a 2-4 night, is batting .214/.278/.355. That's not good, but the .789 OPS Flaherty is sporting in June is trending the right way. Will he keep getting chances, and will he stay hot?
Britton gave every indication he would cruise through the game through five innings, with 58 pitches thrown through five. Then, as with the last start, the sixth inning started. Britton would walk three guys in the inning, and while he should have gotten out of it with only one run in, a Chris Davis error on an inning-ending grounder prolonged the inning and chased Britton.
If you want to know why he doesn't have a spot solidified in the rotation, it's because he does things like walk three batters in one inning, an inning which he began with a nine-run lead. There was no excuse of a high pitch count. He simply could not find the strike zone the third time through the order.
A 5.2 inning outing with only one earned run surrendered doesn't look bad, but six hits and three walks with only one strikeout is not good, either. Britton should have gone seven and could not even go six.
He was relieved by Jair Jurrjens, who finished the sixth and pitched the seventh and eighth while allowing three hits and no runs. Jurrjens will probably only be on the roster for this game, with Roberts due to be activated tomorrow. He was one-day bullpen help, and he helped.
Phelps was relieved by Ivan Nova, who didn't have a bad outing of long relief, finishing out the final 5.2 innings of the game, giving up six hits while striking out four, with no walks. The only problem for Nova was Davis. Was it even a problem? The pitch was low and away, the kind of pitch Davis often lunges for and misses, while tossing his bat into the stands. Instead, his one-handed swing made contact and the ball went high into the sky and came down on the flag court, his 30th of the season. 11-2 Orioles.
All of the offense was part of a 15-hit flurry, with six Orioles having multi-hit games. The Yankees did not do bad in the hit column themselves, with 11. The Orioles have Davis (and Flaherty!) and the Yankees do not.
Pedro Strop gave up a run on two hits in the ninth to finish the game with the final 11-3 score, treating a sellout crowd of 46,607 to the O's second straight win over the Yankees.
With the win combined with a Boston loss, the Orioles now find themselves 2.5 games back in the American League East, with a 46-36 record. After 82 games last year, the Orioles were 44-38, 5.5 games back in the East.
The O's will go for the sweep on Sunday night as they once again find themselves on national television, with ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball in town as Chris Tillman faces off against Hiroki Kuroda. The broadcast begins at 8. The O's have yet to complete a sweep of a series of three games or longer this season