When you look at the final score of this game and see 8-3, the offense is probably going to be the story. The Orioles, who have been offensively challenged at home so far this season, broke out for eight runs tonight after scoring seven yesterday. That's great to see, and makes the game a lot of fun. But for me, the best part of this game was the performance by spot starter T.J. McFarland. I think many of us thought tonight's game could be a disaster, but McFarland was better than expected.
Thanks to the doubleheader last Friday and the injury to Bud Norris, the Orioles found themselves without a starting pitcher on regular rest tonight. Though McFarland had been a starter almost exclusively in the minors, tonight was just his second start in the majors (his first was a disaster in 2013 against the Yankees where he didn't get out of the third inning).
McFarland hadn't started a game since May 17th when he pitched 5 2/3 innings for the Norfolk Tides, so going in it was unlikely he'd pitch deep into the game. He needed to make the most of his pitch count, and he really did. He had just one 1-2-3 inning in his five innings pitched, but thanks to his effective sinker he got a lot of ground balls and induced two double plays to get out of innings.
The only runs TJ allowed were in the second inning, and if Chris Davis had been able to field his position it probably would have been none. After Robinson Chirinos singled to left field, Chris Gimenez hit a ground ball to first base. Davis completely whiffed on fielding the grounder, which likely could have been turned into a double play, and it went up the right field line. For reasons I can't understand, the official scorer gave Gimenez a double on the play instead of charging Davis with an error. That put runners on second and third for Adam Rosales, who slapped a ground ball that went between Davis and first base to knock in both runs. That hit tied the game at two runs apiece, and it looked like the Rangers might take the lead with Rosales on second and no outs. But McFarland got a fly out and two ground outs to end the inning.
Altogether, McFarland pitched five innings and threw 68 pitches, 47 for strikes. He struck out two and didn't walk any, and had a 9/3 ground out to fly out ratio. Of the seven hits he allowed, five were ground balls (two were infield hits). For a guy who has pitched solely in relief in the majors this season, it was hard to ask for more from McFarland.
Of course, the O's bats came out in support of their starting pitcher, which always helps. This team lives and dies by the home run ball, and over the last few nights they have been feasting. In the bottom of the first Steve Pearce (10) and Nelson Cruz (26) each hit solo home runs to give the Orioles a 2-0 lead. Pearce's hit the base of the left field foul pole, quite different than the bombs he hit yesterday. That's his third home run in the last two games. Cruz's homer landed in the Orioles bullpen, but sadly there were no acrobatic catches by Tommy Hunter tonight.
In the second inning, with the scored tied 2-2, Jonathan Schoop lined a ball to center field for a single, setting the table for Caleb Joseph. Joseph has showed some pop in his bat the past few weeks, and he did it again tonight. He hit a low fastball from Rangers pitcher Nick Martinez into the first row of the left field stands. It put the O's up 4-2, and they never trailed again.
The Orioles scored four more runs in the fourth inning thanks to some help from the Rangers defense. With one out, the O's loaded the bases on singles by J.J. Hardy and Schoop, and a walk to Ryan Flaherty. Joseph hit a ground ball to Elvis Andrus at shortstop that looked like a routine double play ball. But Andrus dropped the ball on the transfer and couldn't get even one out. One run came in to score and the inning was extended for Nick Markakis. Markakis lined a double down the right field line that scored Schoop and Flaherty, then Pearce knocked in the fourth run of the inning on a sacrifice fly.
After five innings, with the score 8-2, Buck Showalter turned the game over to the bullpen. Ryan Webb had a rare off night as two singles and a ground out led to the Rangers third run of the game. But other than that the bullpen was sharp, with Tommy Hunter, Darren O'Day, and Zach Britton. The three faced just 10 batters over their three total innings pitched.
Once they had their six-run lead, the Orioles bats went to sleep. Their only baserunner in innings 5-7 was Adam Jones, who doubled with two outs in the seventh. They did make some noise in the eighth inning, loading the bases with two outs. But Markakis watched strike three to end the inning.
Jim Palmer mentioned several times late in the game that it would be a very different game if Andrus hadn't made that error, since it would have just been a one-run lead for the Orioles. That's true I suppose, but you could say the same for the "double" that Davis allowed back in the second. But regardless, the Orioles won and they won comfortably. And those games are always fun to watch.
The Orioles and Rangers play the third game of this four-game series tomorrow at 7 p.m. Chris Tillman is pitching for the Orioles and the Rangers will start Miles Mikolas, a right-handed pitcher that was just called up today. Mikolas pitched in 25 games out of the Padres bullpen in 2012 and appeared in two games in 2013 for them, also in relief. He has split time between starting and relieving at AAA this season.