J.J. Hardy's nightmare is finally over. In the eighth inning of the game, the home run drought came to an end when he blasted a pitch into the left field seats at Yankee Stadium. The run was meaningless insurance in a 6-1 victory over the Yankees on Saturday afternoon, but it meant everything to Hardy.
In true Orioles tradition, his teammates gave him the silent treatment as he came into the dugout. Where teammate Chris Davis pantomimed giving high fives and elbow bumps into mid-air, Hardy showered himself with sunflower seeds to celebrate the occasion.
The Hardy home run was the fourth that the Orioles hit on Saturday. All six of their runs came via the home run. It is at once the team's strength and weakness. When the power is there, they will destroy you. When the power is not there - whether through a skillfully-executed game plan on the part of the other team, or simply luck - they will be destroyed. Worry about that tomorrow when they face Masahiro Tanaka. For today, bask in the victory as the Orioles gained a game on the team immediately ahead of them in the standings.
Even the Yankees got into the act, with their lone run scoring on a home run by Mark Teixeira in the fourth inning. O's starter Bud Norris pulled his favorite move of pointing at the popup, but it turned out that it was actually a home run. Oops.
That home run notwithstanding, it was a good outing for Norris, who allowed only three hits and two walks in five innings before departing the game due to what the Orioles described as right groin tightness. That seems to be an ongoing problem for the Orioles pitching staff this season. With 82 pitches thrown, Norris wasn't exactly on pace to throw a complete game. He did at least look to be going six innings, sparing the bullpen a bit of work.
Since Norris went at least five innings, he was given the win. That puts his record at 7-5 on the season. He now has a 3.62 ERA. For an Orioles starter, anything under 4 feels pretty good, given all the other things we've seen.
The injury to Norris pressed Ryan Webb into service for two innings. Webb gave up a hit and a walk but allowed no runs. It's nice when a free agent reliever signing actually works out.
Webb was followed by Brian Matusz, who came into the eighth inning of a 6-1 game, faced three batters, and only retired one of them, because he's Matusz and that's what happens. Actually, though the box score says two hits, one of them should have been an error as Manny Machado misplayed a routine Derek Jeter grounder. It was scored a hit because Jeter's home scorer seems to like him more than the Fenway Park scorer likes David Ortiz. I'm so sad for Ortiz, really.
One night after a vintage Yankee Stadium meltdown, there was good reason to fear Tommy Hunter coming on in relief of Matusz with two men on base. Turns out you didn't need to worry that much. Hunter finished off the last five outs without allowing a run. Keeping a safe lead safe. What a concept.
This was a game that the Orioles needed to win to salvage something from this series. After Friday's blown game and the matchup of Tanaka against Chris Tillman for Sunday, they needed to be able to take at least one win this weekend. They took advantage of a soft Yankees starter, Vidal Nuno, to do so. Before today, Nuno had allowed 12 home runs in 61 innings. He allowed three more in 6.1 innings today. The Orioles beat the guy they were supposed to beat.
Adam Jones lit the keg of dynamite in the first inning, with a shot to left field to put the Orioles on the board 1-0. That was his 13th home run of the season. Nelson Cruz followed in the fourth inning with a man on base, muscling a home run the other way to the short porch in right - bringing him back into a tie for the MLB lead in home runs. Cruz and Edwin Encarnacion both have 23.
Steve Pearce was the other Oriole to get in on the home run party today, because of course he was. He added a home run in the fifth inning, his sixth of the year, and had two hits and a walk on the day. He is now batting .333/.387/.579. Do yourself a favor and don't look at his BABIP.
The Yankees brought in reliever Jose Ramirez for mop-up duty. In giving up the home run to Hardy, he showed why he is the mop-up duty reliever. Ramirez also showed his potential, though, throwing hard and striking out four Orioles in 2.2 innings.
Neither team had a hit with runners in scoring position on Saturday. The Orioles went 0-5 in those situations, while the Yankees went 0-9. When you have home run hitters on your team, everyone is in scoring position all of the time, even the man at the plate, really.
One other play that's worth mentioning came from Caleb Joseph, who helped to snuff out a potential first inning Yankees rally. Norris walked Brett Gardner to lead off the game. The fast Gardner was 15 for 16 in stolen base attempts heading into today. Joseph doesn't care about all of that. Gardner ran; Joseph made a fantastic throw and cut him down, erasing the leadoff runner.
That was the ninth runner Joseph has thrown out in 19 attempts. The league average caught stealing percentage for a catcher is 27%. Joseph has thrown out 47%. He is making the most of his big league chance. It's fun to see.
Sunday is Old Timers Day at Yankee Stadium, which means a later start time of 2 o'clock while they do whatever it is they do as part of those festivities.