Throughout the night game of Saturday's doubleheader, the Fox broadcast crew tried their best to clean up the Boston Red Sox with repeated tongue baths. Their production crew appears to have given them the mistaken idea that the Red Sox are a contending team. As the game moved on past the disaster that was Ubaldo Jimenez, the Orioles showed the true quality of a first place team as they came back for a 7-4 victory in the nightcap.
The star of the game was Nelson Cruz, who turned in the Orioles' first five hit performance in three years, including a home run and two doubles. The second double came in the eighth inning, with Cruz, knowing he needed a triple to get the cycle, trying his best to leg out a triple from a double. It didn't work and he was thrown out, but can you even get mad? The play actually made Buck Showalter smile. It also produced the reaction from Cruz that you see pictured above.
It was a grand old romp. What the hell, why not try for the cycle? All of these things are more fun when the team is winning. It would have been another story if the Orioles had lost the game by one run. They did not. The bullpen was good.
There was a big need for the bullpen to step up after Jimenez did the kind of thing you'd expect from him based on his early Orioles tenure. He walked everyone in the stadium. No, he actually walked six guys in 3.2 innings, but that's terrible, make no mistake. Although he issued several walks, Jimenez actually held the Sox hitless through three innings. That's not worth very much when he decided to open the fourth by walking Mike Napoli and giving up a home run to Stephen Drew, who is sporting a .468 OPS.
That two-run shot knotted the game 2-2, with the Orioles having gotten a two-run home run of their own in the top of the fourth inning from an unlikely source: Nick Hundley, who is currently out-slugging Chris Davis.
That sounds bad, and it is bad. Davis, with an 0-4 night, has dipped to a .202/.319/.386 batting line. He struck out three times tonight and never looked like he was going to have a chance to do anything positive.
Boston did not stop the scoring there, continuing to pile on the command-challenged Jimenez with a barrage of four straight hits that scored two more runs. Manager Buck Showalter had seen enough by then and Jimenez was pulled from the mound by a cane as if it was an old cartoon. Jimenez added five hits to the six walks, giving up four runs, all earned. That's bad.
Luckily, although the Orioles lost the day part of the doubleheader, they were helped by Miguel Gonzalez going eight innings in that game. The bullpen was rested for the nightcap and it was used to great effect. The Red Sox did not score again for the rest of the game.
Meanwhile, the Orioles offense chipped away against Sox starting pitcher John Lackey. Although the fearsome visage of Lackey spooked them into striking out eleven times, they got their hits off of him as well, with ten hits coming before he was pulled after 5.1 innings, having thrown 120 pitches.
Cruz got the Orioles back in the game with a shot over the Green Monster in the fifth, closing the O's deficit down to 4-3. They kept it going in the sixth. Jonathan Schoop singled, followed by Nick Markakis fighting his way to a walk in a 10-pitch plate appearance that sent Lackey packing.
Burke Badenhop, who has the name of someone who should be accompanying Natasha and battling Moose and Squirrel, trotted in from the bullpen. Usually he's good. Tonight he wasn't. Badenhop faced three batters and retired none, allowing both inherited runners to score, plus a couple of his own for good measure. Steve Pearce, who had a multi-hit game himself, Cruz, and J.J. Hardy all drove in a run in the inning as the O's stormed ahead to the 7-4 final score.
The Orioles used five relievers to cover the final 5.1 innings of the game. The Red Sox got a leadoff double from the vandal David Ortiz to lead off their half of the inning and did not have another baserunner for the remainder of the game. That's four straight 1-2-3 innings.
Brad Brach got the party started by stranding the runner he inherited from Jimenez. Though Ortiz got the double, Brach recorded three straight outs on ground balls, including a TOOTBLAN (thrown out on the basepaths like a nincompoop) by Ortiz on a fielder's choice.
Next up was Tommy Hunter, who plowed through five Red Sox, getting two strikeouts and inducing gushing (if probably inaccurate) praise from Tom Verducci on the broadcast for his "99mph heater" and "wipeout breaking ball". Hunter was only relieved in order to give Brian Matusz a reason to continue to exist, as Ortiz was set to bat with two outs in the seventh. There is one thing Matusz does, and that is own Ortiz. It's the only thing he has left.
Ortiz was 1-21 with 13 strikeouts against Matusz. Ortiz actually made contact off Matusz tonight, taking the opportunity to pimp and admire his non-threatening fly ball to Adam Jones in center field. Aw, that's really too bad for the guy who will not be voted the All-Star starter because Cruz is awesome.
Darren O'Day pitched the eighth and Zach Britton added a drama-free ninth for his 13th save of the season. O'Day sports a 1.19 ERA, with Britton at 1.39. That's what you want from the back of your bullpen.
Cruz may not have gotten his cycle, but he did steal a base as the Red Sox lackadaisically ambled around while in a shift against Davis. According to the stats wizards at ESPN, that makes Cruz only the third visiting player to have five hits, a home run, and a stolen base at Fenway Park. The other two were Jimmie Foxx and Ty Cobb. That's good company.
The win kicks the Orioles back up into sole possession of first place pending the final result of the Blue Jays game out in Oakland. Kevin Gausman returns to the big leagues - hopefully for good - to start the rubber match of this three-game series on Sunday at 1:35. He'll be opposed by Boston's Jake Peavy.