Since the Orioles swept the Yankees in Baltimore, nothing has worked. They had gone 2-6 coming into tonight's game, as their starters couldn't go deep or avoid the big inning, the offense stopped firing on all cylinders, the bullpen wasn't exactly in lockdown mode -- it was some all-around ugly baseball. Tonight's game was quite the turnaround, with a solid starting performance and a well-rounded offensive attack leading to a victory that actually seemed easy.
Let's start with the pitching. Did you know that starting pitchers are allowed to record three consecutive outs and not let a baserunner on in an inning? If you're an Orioles fan, you could be forgiven for forgetting how that works, but Wei-Yin Chen's return from the DL tonight was meant to remind you. Chen had three perfect frames, one to start the game, one in the third inning and another to close out his night in the seventh. And in the early going, even the imperfect innings weren't all that scary. Chen scattered some singles and walks, and the Rangers didn't get a runner as far as second base until the fifth. Things got a little dicier later, but we'll get to that.
And then there was the hitting. A lot of these guys looked ice cold coming into tonight. Chris Davis still does, but thankfully the rest of the lineup hid his weakness. To be fair, the Orioles hitters may not have been amazing tonight as much as Rangers starter Josh Lindblom simply didn't have anything working. In the first inning, the Orioles threatened but failed to plate a runner, although Nate McLouth and Nick Markakis worked lengthy at-bats before making outs. Singles from Manny Machado and Adam Jones were wasted when Davis grounded out weakly to end the inning.
Lindblom got his own 1-2-3 inning in the second before the Orioles hitters got through in the third. After Nolan Reimold grounded out on a failed check swing, McLouth got things started with an infield single. Replays showed that Nate might've been out by a split second, but Orioles fans aren't looking gift baserunners in the mouth right now. And it's a good thing, because in the next at-bat, Machado drilled a laser of a triple into left-center (with a slight assist from a bobble by Engel Beltre). Given the lineup's recent history, even with Manny on third with one out, Orioles fans might've feared the scoring would end there, and Nick Markakis's weak popout started to validate that fear. But then, Adam Jones took a five-pitch walk on a batch of low-and-outside pitches -- wow! And then Machado scored suddenly on a wild pitch to Chris Davis -- and it was a good thing, since Davis proceeded to strike out and take out some serious rage on the dirt near the batter's box.
The Orioles really opened the game up in the fourth, starting things off with back-to-back walks to Matt Wieters and J.J. Hardy. That's right, Wieters, Hardy and Jones walked in the same game. That probably tells you all you need to know about Lindblom's command tonight. After the two walks, Brian Roberts drilled the longest single you will ever see to center field. Engel Beltre put a glove on the ball and it came down about three inches shy of a home run. With Wieters and Hardy tagging up, Roberts couldn't get past first, but Wieters scored from second when the Rangers failed to hurry the ball in to the plate. Again, Orioles fans could've feared the worst with runners at the corners and no outs, but Reimold -- who wasn't even supposed to be in tonight's lineup, but replaced Chris Dickerson, who was a late scratch during batting practice -- cracked an Earl Weaver special just inside the left-field foul pole and put the Orioles up 6-0.
Chen started to look pretty shaky in the sixth -- the Rangers broke through for a run on a walk, a single and a groundout. And in reality, Chen was looking pretty gassed as the inning went on, and he was fortunate that some more damage didn't get done, allowing a Mitch Moreland double that was a few feet shy of going over the right-field scoreboard, and on which Adrian Beltre failed to score from first only because he's pretty slow out there. He escaped the inning on an Elvis Andrus groundout, and then astonishingly came out to work the 7th and recorded another 1-2-3 frame in the rain that started to fall (and fortunately tapered off before the game got delayed).
After the Rangers handed the ball off to longman Cory Burns, the Orioles threatened in the bottom of the seventh, loading the bases on three walks with one out. But Reimold and McLouth couldn't cash in a run, striking out and grounding out to end the threat. Fortunately, the team was still cruising on a 6-1 lead at that point. Meanwhile, on the Orioles' side, Tommy Hunter worked two quick scoreless frames to preserve the lead and the bullpen alike.
So there you have it. It would appear that solid starting pitching and timely hitting are key ingredients to winning baseball games. Perhaps the Orioles can take these lessons forward and build on them instead of limping into the All-Star Break. Perhaps not. But right now, it's good to have Chen back and nice to see some fireworks at Camden Yards. Maybe that growing sense of dread that Orioles fans were feeling can be tamped down a little bit, at least for tonight.