When the Orioles face a pitcher making his major league debut, as they did on Wednesday night against the Miles Mikolas of the Rangers, they seem to do poorly. That's probably because we only remember the failure, but still. They looked like they were going to be getting dominated early, at least until Orioles Magic happened and they eventually went on to a rain-delayed, but not denied, 6-4 victory.
For five innings, it was not an impressive performance against Mikolas. He only allowed three hits, one of which was a home run by Adam Jones, putting the Orioles on the board in the fourth inning. They trailed 4-1 because Chris Tillman was not good.
Other than that Jones home run, neither was the Orioles offense, at least not until the sixth inning. Sometimes, all you have to do is stand there and let a guy walk you. That's what Nick Markakis and Steve Pearce did with one out in the sixth. Rangers manager Ron Washington had seen enough, pulling Mikolas with only 77 pitches thrown to tap reliever Jason Frasor from his bullpen.
The Rangers bullpen has spent this season at the corner of Suck and Failure, so that's something of a bold strategy on Washington's part. Maybe we would have had to do a lot of cocaine to understand. Actually, it's possible the rookie was losing it and that was time to get him out of there, but Frasor, it turned out, was not the right guy to come in tonight.
Frasor uncorked a wild pitch, which moved up both runners into scoring position, then allowed Jones to hit a run-scoring sacrifice fly. Nelson Cruz singled to score Pearce from third, moved up to second on a Chris Davis walk, then scored when J.J. Hardy singled. Just like that, the Orioles had tied the game. Frasor gave up two hits and a walk in only two-thirds of an inning. He was charged with only one run, but he also allowed two inherited runners to score.
The next man out of the Texas bullpen was Neil Cotts, a lefty. It's a good idea to put in a lefty when two of the next three batters are lefties. That's the theory, anyway, but in practice, Cotts went 3-1 to the first batter, Ryan Flaherty, then left a meatball out over the plate.
What does Flaherty do with meatballs? He, uh... he eats them. That metaphor sounded better in my head. What I mean to say is Flaherty hit his fourth home run of the season, a pretty shot that flew out onto the flag court, giving the Orioles a 5-4 lead in a game they looked like they had no chance of winning early. Only 16 more to go to live up to Hardy's pre-season prediction for Flaherty. The next time that Flaherty came up to bat, Texas intentionally walked him. What?
Later in the seventh, Jones got his third RBI of the night when he singled to drive in Pearce, who'd reached on his second walk of the night. He scored both times. Imagine that.
All of the runs were needed to paper over a shaky outing from Tillman. Many of his struggles have come in the first two innings of his starts. Going into tonight, 30 of the 46 earned runs he had allowed came in the first and second innings. Tonight it was more of the same from Tillman, who got himself into trouble from the game's first batter. Three first inning singles led to a run.
Tillman sent the 7-8-9 batters down in order in the second inning, then got himself in trouble again to start the third by walking Shin-Soo Choo. A fluke play put another runner on base. A hit and run play saw Choo put in motion, and Tillman threw a pitch so bad that Elvis Andrus had to take an ugly emergency hack to foul it off and protect his runner.
Orioles catcher Caleb Joseph pounced to prevent a wild pitch and possibly throw out the runner, but Andrus' downward cut caught Joseph's glove. This was ruled catcher's interference, which is the letter, if not the spirit, of the law. Manager Buck Showalter came out in vain for a lengthy protest.
In a perfect world, once your Opening Day starter gets two men on base, one by a fluke, he would bear down and limit the damage. We live in the world where that starter was Tillman. Adrian Beltre touched him up for a two-run double and scored two batters later on an infield single from Leonys Martin. He'd put the Orioles in a 4-0 hole, though only three runs were earned.
Martin contributed both at the plate and in the field for Texas on Wednesday. On top of his two hits and RBI, he also robbed a sure home run by Nelson Cruz in the second inning. Cruz hit a fly ball to deep center. It hung for a long time, giving Martin time to dash to the fence, climb it, and grab the ball before it could land in the O's bullpen. He made it look easy.
On the night, Tillman went 5.2 innings, giving up the earned runs on seven hits and four walks against two strikeouts. Most nights, that's not going to be good enough. He left the game with the bases loaded in the top of the sixth. Brad Brach retired Carlos Pena on a groundout to first to limit the damage, which proved to be crucial.
Brach pitched a scoreless seventh, striking out two. Darren O'Day added a perfect eighth. There was a rain delay of an hour and 36 minutes in the bottom of the eighth. Rain delays are the worst. It didn't hurt the O's any tonight, though. Zach Britton pitched a drama-free ninth to end it after the long delay, recording his 11th save of the year in 13 chances.
The Orioles have now won three straight against the faltering Rangers. These are the games you want to win, especially with the Blue Jays winning earlier on Wednesday. The O's keep pace at a game back in the division.
Thursday's series finale will have Texas starting Yu Darvish, so, you know. Don't expect a four-game winning streak, which you shouldn't have done regardless of who's starting because these are the Orioles. Wei-Yin Chen starts the 7:05 game for the O's.