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Orioles 5, Rays 3: The last laugh

Gene Hackman isn't quite sure what was up with his team tonight. I'll tell you what it was: Orioles Magic. Feel it happen! Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-US PRESSWIRE
Gene Hackman isn't quite sure what was up with his team tonight. I'll tell you what it was: Orioles Magic. Feel it happen! Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-US PRESSWIRE

In a game that seemed to be a constant comedy of errors, the Orioles laughed first and they laughed last. Someone is going to have to break up the Orioles, because they've just won their 22nd game of the season and extended their lead in the AL East to two games, but that's better than no games. I am writing this from Camden Yards as the crowd files out. Bill Hall has just been hit in the face with a shaving cream pie. Let's rewind a little bit.

What started out as an intriguing matchup between a couple of young pitchers who have had their struggles in the season turned into a game that was more about errors. The Rays had five on the game, with three in the second leading to two Orioles runs and two more in the fifth leading to a pair of Orioles runs. This is the Orioles we're dealing with, and on a night full of errors, they couldn't fail to do their part. Specifically, Wilson Betemit could not fail to do his part. He gave a grand Bill Buckner whiff - right through the wickets, as MASN play-by-play man Gary Thorne might say - to a ground ball, with no damage resulting. Then for good measure he failed to pick a ball in the dirt from Steve Tolleson on what might have been an inning-ending double play. This one did lead to two runs scoring against Matusz.

The errors were a shame because Matusz had a fairly strong outing otherwise. He ended up getting chased after 5.2 innings, with five hits, three runs (two earned) and only one walk with five strikeouts. A Brandon Guyer home run was the first run of the game, but that was really the only well-struck ball off of him on the day. He could have very easily escaped through six with only one run in, and five hits. We'll take a 1.00 WHIP from Brian any day of the week. Can we say much about him going forward? He faced a depleted Rays lineup, so maybe not.

As for how the Orioles got their runs against Moore, well, he might have been victimized even worse by his defense. A throwing error by Sean Rodriguez let Adam Jones on base to lead off the 2nd inning. Perhaps a bit rattled, Moore tried to pick off Jones and threw the ball towards the tarp. Jones advanced and Matt Wieters walked. Two batters later, Steve Tolleson stepped to the plate looking to avoid the side being struck out with two men on base. He doubled down the left field line, just out of the reach of Rodriguez. In left field, Guyer could not field the ball cleanly underneath the padding, so two runs scored on the play.

They would need more runs than that to win the game, and the Rays defense was happy to provide.

Still holding on to that 2-1 lead in the bottom of the 5th, Rays catcher Chris Gimenez did the O's a favor by letting Luis Exposito get on base thanks to catcher's interference. Exposito had popped out to first on the pitch, but when I looked up from my scorecard he was standing on first thanks to the interference call, which is an error. J.J. Hardy moved him up with a single, then Nick Markakis walked. Bases loaded for Adam Jones? You might have expected a Slapdick kind of moment, but that was not to be. He grounded a pitch up the middle for a single, collecting two RBI. I wrote E-8 on my scorecard and I already forget why, but that was the fifth and last error for Tampa Bay in the game.

After all was said and done, Moore had gone only 4.1 innings, and his biggest problem was the four walks he issued. He also gave up four hits, but of the four runs he allowed, only one was scored as earned.

With the starters chased, the defenses settled down and the story became a battle of the bullpens. It feels strange to say it, but we'll take our chances there, and the bullpen did not disappoint. Ayala was summoned in the top of the 6th and got a clutch strikeout of pinch-hitter Matt Joyce, stranding the inherited runners on first and second.

The Rays bullpen seemed like they might have the game on lockdown as well. Wade Davis went 1.2 innings without allowing a hit, picking up a pair of strikeouts for his trouble. He was followed by Burke Badenhop, who I'm fairly sure used to be a bad guy on Rocky and Bullwinkle. This incarnation of Badenhop's evil superpower is a wicked ... well, I don't even know what to call a pitch that moves like his did. He struck out the side, all looking, with whatever it was, only giving up a single to Jones. It was an impressive display of pitching.

His bullpen-mate J.P. Howell was not so fortunate. After Betemit struck out looking to lead off the bottom of the 8th inning, Bill Hall came to the plate. Bill Hall? He was just brought up to the major leagues today. It's kind of absurd to say that what this team needs is Bill Hall. He had to sign a minor-league contract after the season had already started and now he's on the Orioles. I was handed a fact sheet about Hall before the game started, and the most interesting thing on it was that he was in an episode of The Young and the Restless in 2007 with three of his then-Brewers teammates. (Camden Depot's Jon Shepard informed me via Twitter that another one of the Brewers was Hardy.)

So, Bill Hall. What is he doing? He had struck out twice and walked once. A pitch from Howell was left in a place where it shouldn't have been and Hall launched a ball that barely cleared the newly-lowered wall above the Esskay out-of-town scoreboard. 5-3 Orioles, a score that would hold. While I was typing that last sentence, a nice attendant handed me a fact sheet about the game, so I can tell you some more facts about it: the home run was the first for Hall since May 14, 2011 when he played for Houston, and it represented the 23rd home run for the O's in the 7th inning or later, which leads the majors.

And that left it up to the bullpen. Pedro Strop pitched a perfect 8th, getting two strikeouts, and Jim Johnson closed it out with a drama-free 9th inning. Most all of the announced crowd of 32,862 was still in the house and on their feet once Johnson had gotten two outs. The game ended on a grounder to Betemit - he may have atoned for his earlier error by fielding the ball cleanly and ending another episode of Orioles Magic.

The bullpen, this handy fact sheet tells me, has in fact been perfect in the last two games, retiring all 19 batters faced.

At the start of the game, I received a similar note sheet, which had a header asking the question: New Beast in the East? The Orioles had a 21-10 record against the AL East going back to September 7 of last year. It seems the fact-writers are feeling much more confident now, because in the post-game notes there is no question. It simply says: NEW BEAST IN THE EAST.

I could get to like the sound of that. Couldn't you?