The Orioles went into tonight hoping to start a winning streak, and that's exactly what they did. They ensured a series split with the Twins thanks to a good outing from Zach Britton and very timely hitting against Twins pitcher Nick Blackburn.
Both pitchers had quick 1-2-3 first innings, with Zach Britton retiring the side on just seven pitches. He didn't even give me a chance to settle down on my couch before he was headed back to the dugout. Nick Blackburn wasn't much worse as he only needed eleven pitches (seven of which were thrown to Derrek Lee).
The Twins got on the board in the second, as Michael Cuddyer took Britton deep with a fly ball that just kept carrying in the wind, right over the fence in center field. That was the beginning of a tough inning for Britton, as he followed the home run with a four-pitch walk to Jim Thome and, after a strike out, a bunt single to Luke Hughes. Britton got the next two batters to limit the damage, but he was forced to throw twenty-one pitches. Good thing he only needed seven in the first!
After Mark Reynolds hit a fly ball to left for the first out, Matt Wieters stepped in, a perfect 5-for-5 with runners in scoring position this year. Could he possibly keep that streak alive? Could he continue to be the clutchest hitter who ever clutched? Of course he could, how dare you doubt him? And he didn't just get some piddly single, he hit a home run to straight away centerfield. It was Matt's third home run of the year, and I'm happy to say that over the last three series Wieters has looked very good at the plate. Starting with the series in New York last week, Matt has gone 7 for 22 (.318) with 2 BB, 2 2B, 3 HR.
Britton had more troubles in the third, allowing two singles before inducing a double play ball to get himself out of the inning. The good news is that neither ball was hit hard and both were grounders. That's gonna happen with a ground ball pitcher, I suppose.
Nick Markakis led off the third inning with a solid single to left, his first of two hits on the night. It's nice to see Nick getting on base, although we didn't get to see him for long as Derrek Lee immediately grounded into a double play, clearing the bases. It's a shame, too, because Vlad followed Lee's AB with a home run, and it wasn't a cheap one either. It landed deep in the left field seats to put the O's up by four runs. That would be last time the Orioles scored in the game.
Britton cruised through the fourth and fifth innings, but fell apart in the sixth. He walked two of the first three batters he faced (he struck out the other one), who then moved to second and third on a ground out by Thome. With two down, Britton went to a full count to Danny Valencia before he hit a high chopping ball through the center of the infield, scoring both runs. The prompted a visit from the Mark Connor, and Britton just looked exhausted on the mound. We found out after the sixth inning that Britton has been fighting flu-like symptoms, and in his post game press conference Buck Showalter said that he was pretty wheezy when Connor went out there. At any rate, Britton got Luke Hughes to hit a grounder to third base, ending the inning with a two-run lead.
Jim Johnson took over in the seventh inning and was just fantastic. He only needed eight pitches to get through the inning, prompting many in the gamethread (and I'd imagine around Birdland) to call for JJ to return in the eighth. It would have made sense to me, but Buck instead went with Koji Uehara. When asked about it in the press conference, Buck backed up his decision by saying that if JJ had gotten into trouble in the eighth he would have been out tomorrow, and this way JJ will be ready to go tomorrow if needed. It sounds good, I guess, but I'd argue that if you use JJ for two innings you'd still have Koji tomorrow, but whatever.
As soon as Koji began warming in the bullpen, the stress level went through the roof on Camden Chat. It was obvious with that move that Kevin Gregg would be pitching the ninth, and that doesn't make anyone (except Kevin Gregg) happy.
But first things first. Koji wasn't at the top of his game tonight. He gave up one run on two hits and a walk. A walk? What the heck, Koji! That made it a one run game, meaning that Gregg would have no room for error.
It's easy to get on Kevin Gregg's case given how he's pitched this year, but just in case you were worried that maybe you were going too hard on the guy, go take a look at the quotes he gave Britt Ghiroli. I'll wait..............
I know, right?! Who does that guy think he is? What a douche. But that douche was the guy coming in with a one-run lead in the ninth, so for a brief moment I actually had to wish for success for him. And really, it wasn't going to be THAT tough of an inning. He was facing the bottom of the Twins lineup, including two batters (John Holm and Matt Tolbert) who are only in the lineup because of injuries to Joe Mauer and Tsuyoshi Nishioka.
Well, Gregg went 3-1 on Holm before getting him to pop up, then struck out Tolbert. That left him with only Denard Span standing between him and glory. Span hit a thigh-high 92 mph fastball deep to centerfield. Jones raced back, I prepared myself to be pissed off, and then he caught it on the run, crashing into the wall. It wasn't nearly as spectacular a catch as the one Markakis made to preserve Gregg's first save of the year, but it was pretty good in its own right.
So there you go. O's win, 5-4. Zach Britton battled through illness, Matt Wieters continued to hit, Vladdy did his part, and Kevin Gregg didn't give away the game. Not a bad night.