The Orioles snapped their mini-losing streak, splitting the brief two-game series with the Yankees by winning the finale, 5-2. Wei-Yin Chen outdueled CC Sabathia with an outstanding seven-inning gem, holding the Yanks to just four hits and two (controversial) runs. The O's backed him with single runs in five innings, with all but one batter reaching base at least once.
Earlier in the week, the forecast was predicting rain in Baltimore tonight, but as it turned out the weather couldn't have been more perfect. Temperatures in the 70s, not a drop of rain. It was a beautiful night for baseball. And you know what else is beautiful? Wei-Yin Chen. Uh, by which I mean, Wei-Yin Chen's pitching. ...Not that's he not a handsome man, mind you, but...er, that is...let's just move on.
Chen, who pitched well against the Yankees in his major-league debut on April 10, upped his game even more tonight. He was locked in from the get-go, mixing his fastball, changeup, and slider effectively to keep Yankee batters off balance. He mowed through a perfect first inning, then shook off a leadoff walk in the second to keep the runner stranded.
Meanwhile, the O's offense had a tough task in facing half-human, half-walrus CC Sabathia, but they actually managed to hit him pretty well tonight. Adam Jones got the party started, opening the second with a towering homerun into the left-field seats, his team-leading 11th.
An inning later, the bottom of the Orioles' lineup did their part. Steve Tolleson-- who's swung a decent bat since his callup from Norfolk-- led off the inning with a double to left. Up next was Xavier Avery, who was thinking bunt all the way. Normally the notion of bunting in the third inning would be ridiculous, but with a lefty swinger in just his third big-league game facing the tough southpaw Sabathia, I'll allow it. Especially when you consider the impressive speed of Avery. Xavier put down a bunt to the third-base side and easily beat the throw from Alex Rodriguez, even though he was drawn in and fielded the ball quickly. Wow, Avery can flat-out fly.
Sabathia then grazed Robert Andino with a pitch, loading the bases with nobody out. The O's had an opportunity to do major damage, but instead they had to settle for just one run when J.J. Hardy grounded into a double play (plating Tolleson) and Nick Markakis grounded out. M'eh. The O's tallied another run in the fifth. Avery got the inning started with a walk-- nice eye, Xavier!-- and two batters later, Hardy plated him with an RBI double into the left-field corner.
One inning later, the O's took advantage of sloppy Yanks defense to add an insurance run. With the bases loaded and two outs, Hardy tapped a grounder behind second base. Robinson Cano fielded the ball, then bobbled it briefly. He tried to flip to second for a forceout, but the vaunted Derek Jeter was late covering the bag, and Andino slid in ahead of his throw. Hardy was credited with a gift infield single, extending the Orioles' lead to 4-0.
Markakis struck out to leave the bases loaded (Nick was 0-for-4 tonight, the only Oriole starter not to reach base), but Sabathia was finished after throwing 103 pitches in six innings. The O's put 12 runners on base against him, though they stranded eight men in a four-inning stretch. Happily, the wasted baserunners did not come back to haunt them.
That's because Chen was just too damn good. Early on, the Yankees' only rally against him came in the third, when a pair of singles put two on with one out. But Chen induced a 6-4-3 double play from Nick Swisher to escape the jam. And that began an outstanding stretch of 10 consecutive batters retired by Wei-Yin, who was in absolute cruise control.
His only misstep came in the seventh. After a leadoff double, Chen retired the next two batters and had Curtis Granderson down 0-2 in the count. But Granderson lifted a deep drive to left field. Avery rushed back to the wall and attempted a leaping catch, but it appeared that a fan (a Yankee fan, PUKE) got in his way and deflected the ball away from him. Gah! Not again! What is it with snot-nosed doofuses in their stupid Yankees gear and their insistence on interfering with O's outfielders? Surprisingly, Buck Showalter didn't ask the Yankees to review the play for possible fan interference. It's not clear from the replays whether the ball was already in the stands or not when the fan interfered, but I think it was worth a second look. In any case, the homerun call stood, and the Orioles' lead was cut in half to 4-2.
Chen walked the next batter, but recovered to retire Jayson Nix on a fielder's choice. Showalter let him return to the mound to take warmup tosses in the eighth, then removed him from the game before the first batter came up. That allowed the Camden Yards crowd of 24,055 to give Chen a rousing standing ovation as he exited. That crowd included Chen's parents, who were watching him pitch for the Orioles for the first time. Aw! That's adorable. Good show, Wei-Yin.
The O's plated an insurance run against Freddy Garcia in the seventh. Jones led off with a single and was ruled safe on a steal of second, even though the throw appeared to beat him. We'll take it. Consider it a makeup call for not reviewing the Granderson homer. He later scored on catcher Chris Stewart's second passed ball of the game, making it 5-2.
There was one more challenge to overcome. Setup man Pedro Strop was wild to start the eighth, walking the first two batters he faced to bring the possible tying run to the plate. But after a Swisher fielder's choice, Strop pounced off the mound to field a Cano bouncer and fired a perfect strike to second, with Hardy relaying to first to complete a rally-thwarting double play. A pumped-up Strop raised his arms toward the sky after his nice escape.
Closer Jim Johnson was much tidier in the ninth, allowing a one-out single but then ending the ballgame on another double play, this one slickly turned by Andino as he ranged up the middle, stepped on the bag and fired to first in one motion. And that'll do it! Another impressive win for the Birds. With the victory, the O's finished their daunting 15-game stretch against quality teams by going 9-6. Bravo, Orioles. Bravo.