The lazy fly ball soared from the bat of Orioles nemesis Adrian Beltre in the sweltering Texas summer heat. That fly ball carried to right, and Nick Markakis drifted back, back, back, warning track, wall, and he jumped. He landed, betraying no emotion with his initial reaction. Then he popped the ball out of the glove and tossed it back in. Like the outlaws in the days of the frontier, he had committed a brazen robbery, right in front of the Rangers, who were powerless to stop him from taking that home run away.
The play was the highlight of the night for the Orioles, who otherwise did not win impressively, but they won all the same. Behind a Wei-Yin Chen quality start, and taking advantage of a couple of major Rangers blunders, the Orioles opened up their post-All-Star Break schedule by beating the Rangers team they're chasing in the wild card race by a 3-1 score.
With the way that the Orioles rotation has tended to pitch this season, you don't expect to win many games where the other team's starter goes eight innings. In this case, the Rangers' Derek Holland had a great night, allowing only six hits and two walks in the game, while striking out six batters, including three times for Chris Davis, who was 0-for-4 on the night.
Unfortunately for Holland, one of the hits he gave up was a solo home run in the second inning, hit by Matt Wieters, his 13th of the season. That was his big mistake of the night. After that, he was let down by his defense on more than one occasion.
Holland did himself no favors by allowing a leadoff walk to Brian Roberts in the third inning, but when Roberts scored on a double by Nate McLouth, he should have been dead to rights on the play at the plate. However, relay man Ian Kinsler made a throw that pulled A.J. Pierzynski off the plate and Roberts scored easily, without breaking any parts of his body, as far as we know at this time.
Texas got a run thanks to a little misplay on the part of the Orioles. With one out in the fourth inning - immediately following the Beltre non-homer - Jeff Baker hit a single. This was followed by a walk to Mitch Moreland, which allowed Baker to advance to second. Manny Machado was asleep from his place in the shift against the lefty Moreland, and Baker broke for third, where there was no one covering to try to tag him out.
You don't see that one every day, and you might have expected to see it from the awful Orioles teams of the past. Baker scored on a Craig Gentry sacrifice fly, but unlike Orioles of the past, Chen did not allow himself to be rattled and he ended the inning without any more damage.
By every measure other than runs allowed, Chen did not have as good of a game as Holland. He never had a 1-2-3 inning all night and he was out after 6.1 innings, having given up eight hits and two walks with only three strikeouts. Too bad, so sad. Check the scoreboard.
The Orioles got another run gifted to them by Texas in the fifth inning, when Markakis doubled home Machado, who'd reached on an infield single. The play was, as our former Camden Chat correspondent Andrew Gibson would say, a minus. In the box score it goes as a double to center, but that's because between left fielder Jurickson Profar and Gentry, one of whom dove and one of whom failed to back up, they could not come up with the ball. This allowed Machado to motor around the bases as soon as he became aware of the miscue, his helmet flying off as he rounded third base like a 400m meter runner coming into the home stretch.
Machado's run would end up being the last insurance that the Orioles would get.
Baker stole a run with his heady play early in the game, but he cost Texas a scoring chance in the sixth. With Baker on first, Gentry doubled into the right-center gap. The ball was cut off by Adam Jones, who fired a strike to cutoff man J.J. Hardy. Baker had initially been sent by the Rangers third base coach and was halted. He would have been a goner at home plate. But Roberts alertly told Hardy to throw to third, where Machado had blocked off the bag. Hardy hit Machado, who tagged out Baker. That is a textbook TOOTBLAN (thrown out on the basepaths like a nincompoop).
Chen was out in the seventh after Kinsler doubled. Darren O'Day came on and ended that by getting Elvis Andrus to ground out and Pierzynski to fly out. He followed that up with a 1-2-3 eighth inning in which he got two strikeouts.
With the Orioles failing to add any runs against Holland in the later innings, or Jason Frasor, who pitched the ninth, that meant it was Jim Johnson time. There are days where he is good and days where it is stressful. This was a stressful day. Pinch-hitter David Murphy led off the ninth with a single, bringing the tying run to the plate with no one out. Johnson struck out Profar, retired Leonys Martin on an easy flyout, then got two strikes on Kinsler before hitting him with a pitch.
The HBP was not relevant to the game's outcome ultimately, but if ever there was a time for the umpire to use discretion in not awarding the base to the batter, it was on that HBP.
Johnson made that not matter by getting a ground ball to Hardy, who fired to second base for the force to end the game and give Johnson his major league-leading 34th save. The next closest is Mariano Rivera with 30.
Chen was given the win to raise his record to 5-3, and Holland took a tough loss, dropping to 8-5 on the season.
Neither team had a base hit with runners in scoring position in the game. The Orioles went 0-4 and the Rangers went 0-10. When you have runners who can score from first and take advantage of miscues to do so, then you can score without men in scoring position. When the starter goes into the seventh and allows only one run, the team has a good chance to win any night.
The win was Buck Showalter's 250th as the Orioles manager, the fourth team with which he's notched 250 wins. More interesting to Buck, who always says it's about the Orioles winning, the win was the team's 54th of the year, allowing them to keep pace with Boston and Tampa Bay, who both won. One team the O's did gain on is Texas, which has the second wild card spot, but is now only half a game ahead of the Orioles.
The teams will continue the series on Saturday with a game that starts at 8:05 Eastern. Miguel Gonzalez gets the ball for the Orioles, with Ross Wolf pitching for Texas.