Tonight's game had three phases: misery, boredom and excitement. Misery as the young starter took a beating from the last place Nationals. Boredom as both teams played reliever roulette in painfully slow fashion. And excitement as the Orioles combined timely hits with the Nationals miscues to walk off in the bottom of the ninth. It really felt like three separate games, and considering the official time of the game was 3 hours, 53 minutes, there was certainly time for multiple acts.
Phase One: Misery
Jake Arrieta took the mound today I'm sure hoping his start would look a lot more like the first two of his major league career than the last one. Unfortunately for him that wouldn't be the case. Arrieta threw way too many pitches early in the game, including 28 in the first inning alone. Although he lit up the stadium radar gun at 96 a couple times in the second inning, for the most part his fastball was sitting at 91-92 and he wasn't hitting his spots with it. It's tricky watching these young pitchers because even though logically we know that even if they do turn out, they are going to have bumps in the road. But it's still always such a letdown when they happen.
Arrieta lasted just 4.1 innings, and just like in his last start against the Padres, he gave up six runs, one of which was unearned. He gave up eight hits and three walks. He only struck out two. It was not a good night for the rookie.
It was also a tough night for the offense, at least in the first part of the game. Corey Patterson took a rare walk in the bottom of the first only to have Miguel Tejada hit into a double play on the first pitch. The Orioles loaded the bases with no outs in the second, but Garrett Atkins grounded into a 5-1-3 double play and no runs were scored. The Orioles went into the bottom of the fifth inning down 6-0, their hopeful future star knocked out of the game.
In the bottom of the 5th inning, the Orioles again loaded the bases with no outs. No double plays this time. Instead Miguel Tejada hit a sacrifice fly while Nick Markakis and Adam Jones each had an RBI single. That made the game a little less miserable and brought us into the next phase.
Phase Two: Boredom
Just as in Thursday's game against the Marlins, the Orioles had to rely on their bullpen to get through a significant chunk of the game. And for the second night in a row, the bullpen came through. Mark Hendrickson, Frank Mata, and Will Ohman pitched 3.2 scoreless innings. Combined they allowed two hits and no walks. But it just took forever. It was a game we all assumed would end at 6-3, so maintaining interest took effort.
The Nationals pitcher, J.D. Martin, also lasted just 4.1 innings, so the Nats bullpen was faced with having to hold a six run lead for the rest of the game. For awhile, they did a good job. But watching it was like watching paint dry. The Nationals change pitchers more than the Orioles; I didn't now that was possible. Following Martin in the game was Doug Slaten (faced one batter), Miguel Batista (faced five batters), Sean Burnett (faced one batter), and Drew Storen (faced four batters). It took forever, but those four pitchers didn't allow any runs to score, so I guess things were working out ok for them. Not so much me, who was feeling kind of exhausted. But thankfully the Nationals made another pitching change, and with that pitching change came our third and final phase.
Phase Three: Excitement
Tyler Clippard came in to pitch the 8th inning and set up the closer Matt Capps in the 9th. It didn't quite work out that way, though. He started the inning by walking Matt Wieters. Wieters looked quite patient in this game. Clippard probably thought it was no big deal since he'd get to face Garrett Atkins. Surely Atkins would just GIDP and the problem would be solved. But Juan Samuel had seen enough of the most reviled player in Birdland and instead sent Scott Moore to hit in his place. Moore worked Clippard to a 3-1 count then took him deep. The two-run home run landed on the flag court and just like that it was a 6-5 game. A pinch hit home run by Scott Moore? That is as Birdland as it gets, in my opinion. And the Orioles weren't finished.
Cesar Izturis decided to get in on the action, lining a double to right field with one out and putting himself in scoring position for Corey Patterson. Patterson, who already had two hits, a walk, and one stolen home run on the day, came through again. He hit the ball straight back up the middle to knock in Izzy and tie the game. He then stole second and moved to third on a fly ball, but was stranded.
At this point, all of the exhaustion and boredom I'd been feeling was gone. Tie game going into the 9th? I will take it. On came Alfredo Simon to pitch. The thing about Simon is that his pitches have so much movement on them. When they go to the right spots, he is just nasty. The problem is I truly believe that he has no idea where they are going, ever. So it's always an adventure.
Simon was the victim of some bad luck to start off the inning. Ryan Zimmerman checked his swing and sent the ball rolling slowly up the third base line. It just didn't go foul and there wasn't anything Simon or Tejada could do about it. He then struck out Adam Dunn for the first out with a few very good pitches. The Dunn AB was my favorite part of the evening. The stadium was completely silent before the last pitch, as though all 43,484 people in the stands were holding their breath, and as he swung through strike three, the place just erupted. It was awesome. Simon couldn't replicate his success, though, and ended up with runners on first and third with two outs and Roger Bernadina at the plate. Bernandina fouled off a number of pitches and worked the count full, then grounded what looked like it would be a base hit to the left side. Izzy made a fantastic stop and threw across the field just barely getting Bernadina for the third out and keeping the tie in place.
Never a doubt, Alfredo.
Finally, the bottom of the 9th. The Nats elected to keep Clippard in the game after he blew the lead in the 8th. Adam Jones had a bad AB, popping out. But Matt Wieters worked his second walk of the night to put the winning run on first. Our hero, Scott Moore, then ripped a single to move the winning run to second. Jake Fox hilariously came in to run for the slow slow Wieters. Do you think Jake Fox has ever been used as a pinch runner for his speed? The Nats had finally seen enough of Clippard and they went to their closer, Matt Capps. Capps got the batter to hit into what would have been an inning ending double play, but Cristian Guzman made a terrible throw on the relay that skipped past Adam Dunn, and Jake Fox chugged in from third with the winning run. O's win! On an error! You can't make this stuff up.