The Orioles finally got off the schneid today, but in typical Oriole fashion it wasn't an easy task. Pitcher Zach Britton sailed through the early innings before losing the strike zone entirely, and the Orioles had to come from behind to secure their first win since last Sunday.
Britton looked great through his first four innings today, allowing two singles in the first but then retiring ten in a row before walking Freddie Freeman with two outs in the fourth. The walk didn't hurt him as he induced a ground out from Dan Uggla to end the inning. In the meantime he helped out his own cause with a home run to right field in the third to give the Orioles a 1-0 lead. The ball just got out of the park, but was hit hard. The O's scored another run in the third on a sacrifice fly from Mark Reynolds.
In the top of the fifth, Britton again led off the inning at the plate and legged out an infield single. Britton was running as hard as he could and as he crossed first he stumbled at bit and for a second it looked like he might have pulled a hamstring or something. The trainers rushed out but Britton insisted he was fine. He stayed in the game and scored the O's third run on a double by Nick Markakis. It was Nick's third hit on the day as he was on his way to his first career five-hit game.
Back on the mound in the bottom of the inning, Britton got himself into a jam. Nate McClouth hit a ground ball to first for the first out, but then Britton walked Julio Lugo on four pitches. Seriously. Of all people, Zach! Pinch hitter Wilkin Ramirez singled to left, and Jordan Schafer bunted for a hit to load the bases. That brought Jason Heyward to the plate and, well, he scares me. He and Britton locked into a duel that resulted in an eight-pitch at bat, and finally Britton prevailed. Heyward hit a grounder right back to Britton, who started a 1-2-3 double play to end the inning. Phew!
Britton got himself out of trouble in the fifth, but he couldn't do so in the sixth. Starting the inning with a three-run lead, Britton completely lost it. He threw four balls to Chipper Jones, then three more to Brian McCann before McCann hit a bloop over the head of Blake Davis at second base. Britton also threw three balls to Freemon before he singled to knock in Jones. That'd be it for Britton. He threw 94 pitches, 42 for strikes.
Jim Johnson took over for Britton, but he didn't have his best day. After Uggla hit a fly ball to left for the first out, McLouth singled to load the bases. A ground out by Lugo knocked in the second run, then pinch hitter Eric Hinske stepped in, and I knew the Orioles were in trouble.
What is it with Eric Hinske? He's just about a league average player, good enough to bounce around as a utility player for a number of teams. But against the Orioles, he always seems to get the job done. He did it again today, singling up the middle to knock in two runs and give the Braves the lead. That was it, I thought. Might as well stop paying attention to this game.
The Orioles had other plans, though. In the very next inning, Markakis singled and was on base for a monster home run from Mark Reynolds. Mark usually hits them deep, and this one was a no doubter. That put the Orioles back on top, and that's where they'd stay. They had opportunities to add on runs in both the eighth and ninth innings, but of course they couldn't capitalize. Kevin Gregg had a surprisingly stress-free inning as he retired Schafer, Heyward, and Jones to end the game.