The Baltimore Orioles outlasted the Oakland Athletics tonight in a slugfest that saw both starting pitchers have spectacular meltdowns. The O's came from behind in the seventh inning and the bullpen held the lead, including a dominant 1-2-3 ninth from Jim Johnson. The game was by turns frustrating and exciting, and in the end it was a satisfying win.
First the bad news. Bud Norris, the starting pitcher for the Orioles, had his second consecutive bad start. He gave up a solo run in the first on two singles, then solo home runs by Coco Crisp and Brandon Moss put the Orioles in a 3-0 hole after three innings. It's no secret that Norris isn't good against lefties, and the A's stacked their lineup with four lefties and three switch hitters. And those lefties abused him (more on that later).
After wasting an opportunity in the first inning against A's starter Dan Straily, the Orioles struck for six runs in the third inning. Chris Davis started the inning with a walk and came in to score on Adam Jones's 27th home run of the season. It's nice having those two batting 3-4 in the lineup, isn't it? Straily couldn't stop the damage and loaded the bases for Brian Roberts. As many of us hoped for anything but a double play ball, Roberts stepped into a time machine back to the year 2007 or so. He hit a deep fly ball to right field that landed on the flag court for the grand slam. B-Rob! It was awesome. It was Brian's third home run this season and the sixth grand of his career.
Handed a three-run lead going into the fifth inning, Norris promptly gave it back. The first three batters he faced reached and two scored. Brandon Moss then hit a screaming liner that happened to go right to Roberts at second base. Roberts easily doubled up the runner at first and the Orioles looked like they might be able to sneak out of the fifth inning with the lead.
They could not. He walked the next batter, Yoenis Cespedes, putting a runner on with six straight batters coming up who were either left-handed or switch hitters. And here's the thing. Troy Patton was warming in the bullpen. Patton is a lefty and the lineup was stacked with them. This season lefties are OPS'ing .861 against Bud Norris. But Buck Showalter left him in the game! It was totally perplexing. I get leaving him in for Cespedes to see if he could get out of the inning. But he could not. He loaded the bases with a walk and a single before Showalter finally pulled him from the game.
Patton came in to face Eric Sogard, who hit a ball softly that just went over Roberts' head at second. Two runs came in to score and the O's lead was gone, just like that. It was terribly frustrating to watch.
Thankfully Patton came back out to pitch a scoreless sixth inning and Francisco Rodriguez pitched a perfect seventh, keeping the deficit at just one run until the Orioles could strike again. They did so in the bottom of the seventh with three more runs.
With runners on the corners and no outs, Chris Davis hit a ground ball to second that hopped over Sogard's glove. Thanks, Sogard! Nate McLouth came in to score to tie the game and Manny Machado alertly went to third on the play. Jones had a pretty poor at bat, but he grounded softly to third with Machado running on the play to put the Orioles head.
Matt Wieters came to the plate and singled to the third baseman. Yes, you heard me right. Wieters was hustling down the line as fast as he could (it's always funny watching him run) and just beat out the throw. Davis got to third on the play then came in to score the O's ninth run on a single back up the middle by Nick Markakis. Good to see Nicky contributing!
Tommy Hunter came out to pitch the eighth inning which signaled to us that Jim Johnson would indeed be pitching the ninth. Brian Roberts tried to manufacture a run all on his own in the bottom of the eighth inning when he walked, went to second on a wild pitch, and stole third base (just like old times!), but he was stranded. There was just one thing left to do: pray that Jim Johnson could get through the inning without allowing two or more runs.
And you know what? He did! And he looked fantastic doing it. He struck out Moss swinging on three pitches then got a ground ball from Cespedes. It looked like it might go into left field, but Manny Machado is on the team so all balls hit near third base become outs. Johnson followed it up with an easy grounder to second base to end the game. It was great seeing him look like the JJ we all fell in love with.
Also great is the fact that the Indians lost today meaning that the Orioles are back in third in the race for the wild card. They're now just two games behind the A's. The Rays did beat the Yankees so no ground gained there, but as I write this the Red Sox are losing 2-0 in the sixth inning to the Dodgers.