Limping into the final game of the series against the Rangers needing to scrape together some offense against Ross Wolf to salvage a split in the four-game set, the Orioles did very little more than scrape the bottom of the barrel. With the way the team has been pitching this season, a night where they went into the eighth inning having only had four baserunners total - and none in scoring position - was not one that looked promising for victory. Miguel Gonzalez had other plans, and a pair of solo home runs by Chris Davis and Brian Roberts proved to be all the team would need to score a 3-1 victory.
Wolf was an emergency starter, filling in for the injured Yu Darvish. The former Orioles farmhand - once traded to Oakland in exchange for Jake Fox - has been pitching well out of the Texas bullpen this season. In his second start of the year, he pitched well in the rotation, too. He breezed through six innings in only 72 pitches before he was lifted, giving up only three hits and a walk. Unfortunately for Wolf, he was up against the team that leads all of the land in home runs hit.
Davis opened up the scoring by victimizing Wolf, hitting his 34th home run of the season, a shot to right-center that put the Orioles on the board 1-0 in the second inning. The home run broke Davis out of an 0-17 slump, although it means he's now in a 1-20 slump, which isn't exactly better. But hey, that home run was important!
Leading off the third inning, Roberts got a pitch to drive and he did not fail to deliver. There's still some strength in those old arms, with Roberts hitting his second home run of the year. The score was 2-0 Orioles after Roberts circled the bases, and that would do it for the Orioles and scoring against Wolf.
These are the games you hate to lose: needing the strong outing against the reserve pitcher, needing the win with divisional rivals all winning. They are the games the Orioles have been losing in recent weeks, with either poor starting performance or bullpen shenanigans causing leads to be coughed up.
Gonzalez was having none of that on Thursday night. He might not have held the Rangers offense to as few runners as Wolf did to the Orioles, but he turned in an excellent performance. Texas only got four hits and two walks off of Gonzalez, who left with two outs in the seventh inning, having thrown 104 pitches, 66 of which went for strikes. The only damage done against Gonzalez was a solo home run by Ian Kinsler, his ninth homer of the season, surrendered in the sixth inning.
Troy Patton came on to close the door in the seventh after Gonzalez walked Jurickson Profar with two out. He did his job tonight, striking out David Murphy to end the inning and close the book on Gonzalez, who lowered his ERA to 3.48 with tonight's outing.
A perfect eighth by Darren O'Day gave way to the Orioles finally getting a quality scoring chance. Rain had begun to fall as Jason Frasor pitched to the O's in the bottom of the eighth. He gave up a single to Matt Wieters to open up the inning, but Wieters was still standing on first with two out after J.J. Hardy popped out and Roberts struck out.
With two out, the struggling Nolan Reimold grounded a single past Adrian Beltre and into left field - Manny Machado would have had it, I just want to say - which put Wieters in scoring position. Frasor tried to go away against Nate McLouth, but he got the bat on the ball and lined the pitch to center. This was just enough to score Wieters, who lumbered around second and made it to the plate ahead of the throw. The man is not fleet of foot.
Machado popped out to end the rally there, leaving runners on second and third. The insurance run had scored, however, giving the Orioles a 3-1 lead.
As the Orioles beat writers are fond of tweeting, "Cue the Foo." Jim Johnson came on to pitch the ninth, with a chance to be either the MLB's sole leader in saves or in blown saves. Three outs, two run cushion. Which would give first?
Series-long nemesis Beltre led off with a single. A.J. Pierzynski, presumably fully healed from the sniper bullet that struck him after he grazed Machado's arm earlier in the series, represented the tying run as he stepped to the plate. None of us are so far removed from the bad times that we could avoid the brief vision where that smug, douchey punk rounded the bases, having hit a home run to tie the score.
These are not those Orioles. Johnson got Pierzynski to hit a come-backer to the mound on an 0-2 count for an easy 1-6-3 double play to clear the bases. Mitch Moreland hit a single just to mess with Johnson's WHIP, then Profar grounded out to first to end the game. The Orioles salvaged the split and the crowd of 21,857 could go home from Camden Yards happy.
In the whole game, the O's only had seven baserunners and only one hit with runners in scoring position, McLouth's insurance single in the eighth. The offense may not be fixed of whatever has ailed it recently. They did enough to win tonight, however, thanks to the strong outing by Gonzalez, who came just shy of giving the O's back-to-back seven-inning efforts from a starter.
Gonzalez was credited with the win, raising his record to 7-3. Wolf took the loss to drop to 1-2. Johnson's save was his 31st, which leads the majors.
If they can keep pitching like this - the Texas offense is nothing to sneeze at, after all - then the offense being in a slump won't much matter. It will be up to Chris Tillman to keep the good times rolling on Friday night as the Orioles welcome Toronto into town for a three-game series that will take us into the All-Star Break. Mark Buehrle starts for Toronto in the 7:05 game.