The Orioles broke out of their slump in a big way tonight with fantastic pitching and even better offense. Jake Arrieta pitched six mostly brilliant innings and the lineup pummeled Carl Pavano and Joe Nathan, scoring all eleven of their runs with two outs.
Arrieta went to the mound looking for a second consecutive good outing, having last pitched six strong innings at Yankee Stadium in a game the O's ultimately lost. He started off well, needing just thirteen pitches to get through the first inning despite allowing a leadoff single to Denard Span. He was hitting his spots with his pitches from the get-go, mostly using his curveball and fastball, and his pitches looked great. In the second inning, Luke Hughes hit a two-out double to right-center but Arrieta came back to strike out Drew Butera looking on a beautiful curveball.
Twins starter Carl Pavano retired the side in order in the first inning and it looked like he might also do so in the second as he induced a groundout from Vladimir Guerrero and a flyout from Luke Scott. Adam Jones then hit a ball deep into the hole at shortstop for an infield single, and that's when the fun began. Pavano followed the Jones at-bat with a four-pitch walk to Mark Reynolds (I gotta say, I knew the guy could take a walk when he got here, but I didn't realize how much I'd enjoy his fantastic batting eye). With runners on first and second, Matt Wieters had his first big at-bat of the night. He ripped the first pitch he saw right back up the middle for a line drive single. Jones scored on the play giving the Orioles a 1-0 lead.
With that lead, Gary Thorne informed the MASN viewing audience that it was the O's first lead in a game since the moment just before Kevin Gregg gave up the game-tying home run to Jorge Posada in New York last Thursday. That, friends, is pathetic. But wipe that from your mind, because today is a new day: the Orioles have the lead again!
With one run already in, Pavano walked Robert Andino to load the bases (it'd be the first of four times that Andino would reach base tonight), which set the table for Brian Roberts to hit a two-run single down the right field line. Nick Markakis (one of the few dark spots on the offense tonight) flew out to end the inning, but the Orioles had already scored as many runs as they'd need to win the game.
Armed with a three-run lead, Arrieta pitched 1-2-3 third, needing only ten pitches to retire the side. He wouldn't have such an easy go of it in the fourth inning, however. After a six-pitch at-bat to Jason Kubel that resulted in an out, Arrieta walked Jim Thome (who sadly these days looks like he couldn't hit a beach ball if you tossed it to him). His pitches to Thome weren't particularly close, and after going 2-0 to Michael Cuddyer, Matt Wieters paid a visit to the mound. Whatever he said worked as Arrieta looked back on track. He ultimately went to a full count on Cuddyer and then induced a very soft ground ball to third base. Reynolds just couldn't get it out of his glove and it went for an infield single. Arrieta retired the next two batters easily but the tough inning jacked up his pitch count as he needed twenty-nine pitches to get through it.
The O's offense struck again in the bottom of the fourth. With two outs, Matt Wieters was hit in the elbow by Pavano, and thanks to our friend plunkeveryone, we know that it was the 1000th HBP in Camden Yards history. Andino singled Wieters to second where he then scored on a double by Brian Roberts (we don't call him a doubling machine for nothing!).
Arrieta again had his troubles in the fifth inning. He retired Butera easily but then walked the next two batters. That prompted a visit from the pitching coach Mark Conner. Goose told him, "Yeeha, Jester's dead!" That was all Jake needed to hear as he then struck out Matt Tolbert on three pitches (including two nasty curveballs) and got Jason Kubel to fly out to left.
It's funny, both times Arrieta began getting himself into trouble, all it took was a talk from either Wieters or Connor to get him right back in the groove. It was impressive the way he was able to get back to his good stuff and hopefully has he matures he'll be able to right that ship on his own.
The Orioles scored four more runs in the bottom of the fifth inning, and this time the old man contingent of the lineup joined in the fun. Derrek Lee and Vlad started the inning with back-to-back singles, and after a Luke Scott strikeout, a rare Adam Jones walk loaded the bases. Pavano struck out Reynolds but wouldn't be so lucky with Wieters. On a 3-2 count, Wieters hit a rocket to right field that hit off the scoreboard and cleared the bases. Andino then hit a ball to Alexi Casilla at shortstop and beat the throw, which skipped away from the first baseman. Wieters alertly headed home with the eighth Oriole run of the night.
Arrieta was back on the mound for the sixth inning and ended his evening on a high note. He struck out Thome and after a single by Cuddyer induced an inning ending double play. That'd be it for Arrieta as his pitch count was up to 108, but it was a great outing by the young starter. In his post-game interview, Arrieta talked about his desire to pitch deeper into games, saying he doesn't want to give up the ball after only six innings. If he can keep pitching like he did tonight and continue maturing, I think he'll be there in no time.
The O's final three runs came in the eighth inning off of Joe Nathan. Nathan has recently been relieved of his closing duties while he continues to work his way back from Tommy John surgery, and he did not look good. Another Andino single and a four-pitch walk to Markakis put two runners on for Vlad, who hit a fat fastball over the scoreboard in right for a three-run homer.
(Jim Palmer and Gary Thorne were barely paying attention to the game at this point. They spent the last several innings discussing their favorite ice cream flavors. Jim likes the traditional chocolate chip and Gary loves grapenut.)
Jason Berken relieved Arrieta in the seventh and pitched two innings without allowing a run. Things got dicey a couple times as he allowed a few hits and a walk, but no damage was done. Josh Rupe pitched a perfect ninth to end the game.
So that's it. The eight game losing streak is over. I hope we don't see another one ever again.