It took fifteen innings, but the Orioles finally won tonight against the Kansas City Royals. Strong performances by both starting pitchers were almost forgotten by the time this one ended thanks to a homer in Adam Jones' 7th at bat and a phenomenal job by two unlikely pitchers in the bullpen.
Tommy Hunter pitched a very effective game, and although he looked like he was losing it a couple times, I'll take seven innings and two runs every day of the week.
Through the first three innings, Hunter faced just nine batters thanks to two double plays. The Royals were chasing the ball and Hunter got through those three innings with just 25 pitches thrown. It was looking like the beginning of a very good start by Hunter, but the fourth inning got a little dicey. With one out and runners on first and second (courtesy of a lead off walk and a line-drive single), Alex Gordon smoked a ball, and I mean he killed it, towards first base. Luckily for the Orioles it was right at Chris Davis's head, so his choice was to catch it or die. He caught it and easily doubled off Butler at first. Hunter only threw 11 pitches in the inning but the Royals were hitting the ball hard and he lucked into the double play.
The only two runs Hunter allowed on the night came in the fifth inning. Jeff Francoeur started the inning for the Royals and he popped a ball up behind home plate. Matt Wieters couldn't find the ball in the high sky and when Davis realized he raced in towards the warning track behind home plate. It was a valiant effort, but he couldn't quite get there. Given new life, Frenchy lined a double to right field. After Mike Moustaskas popped out, Hunter hit Alcides Escobar on a 3-2 count. Chris Getz grounded to Davis at first, who bobbled the ball but got the second out as the runners moved up.
So with two outs, the only thing standing between Hunter and the end of the inning was #9 hitter Humberto Quintero. If you don't know who he is, that's ok. He's not very good, and he wasn't slated to be the Royals every day catcher. He lucked into the role when Salvador Perez was injured in Spring Training. Anyway, now that you know who he is, I will tell you that he singled up the middle to knock in both runs. Shame.
After one inning in which he was lucky to escape without a run and another in which he gave up two, I was starting to think that Hunter might be toast despite his low pitch count. Hunter proved me wrong, though, pitching an easy 1-2-3 sixth inning and working out of a jam in the seventh without allowing any more runs. So it was scary at times, but he got the job done.
Unfortunately, the Orioles hitters didn't have much support for their starting pitcher. Felipe Paulino, making his third start of the season, dominated them for seven innings. The O's managed just five hits off of him (four singles and a double), and he struck out nine while walking two. So it was a sweet, sweet sight when Kelvin Herrera came out of the bullpen to start the eighth inning. The O's hitters agreed as J.J. Hardy and Nick Markakis greeted him with back-to-back doubles to make the score 2-1. Then, after Adam Jones struck out, Markakis did something very boneheaded: he tried to steal third. He was thrown out by a mile.
You just can't do that! Making an out at third base when you're the tying run and already in scoring position in the 8th inning of a game! The rally was snuffed, and Wieters grounded out to end the inning.
Troy Patton came in to pitch the eighth inning and got two quick outs before a single by Butler and a double from Gordon plated the Royals third run of the night, a very important insurance run.
Top of the 9th! O's down by two and facing KC's closer, Jonathan Broxton. Scheduled to face him: Nick Johnson, Wilson Betemit, Chris Davis. What could go wrong? NJ grounded out, but Betemit hit a fly ball that just kept drifting and drifting and then it was over the wall. Home run! See what I meant by important insurance run in the bottom of the 8th?
After Davis blooped a single to left field and Robert Andino flied out, rookie sensation Xavier Avery stepped to the plate. Xavery took two pitches outside the strike zone and hit the third through the hole and into right field. Ryan Flaherty, pinch running for Davis, moved to second base, and Hardy came to the plate. Can he do it? Will he do it? He did it! A single up the middle scored Flaherty to tie the game. With two runners on and two outs, Markakis grounded out to end the inning, and that's when the scoring stopped for a long, long time.
Darren O'Day pitched the bottom of the 9th for the Orioles, and although he allowed a lead off single, he was otherwise great. Time for free baseball!
Just as the game went into extra innings, the Royals and Orioles bats both fell asleep. Tim Collins pitched a perfect 10th for the Royals, and then Nathan Adcock pitched four strong innings. It was frustrating watching the Orioles hack away at his pitches, and also frustrating to see Nick Johnson's double in the 13th wasted.
For the Orioles, Buck Showalter turned to two of the most disliked players on the team to hold the tie. Dana Eveland started the 10th inning as Orioles fans wailed at the idea of the fate of the game in Eveland's hands. But Eveland pitched three great innings, giving up just one single. With three innings in the books for Eveland, Showalter turned to Kevin Gregg. "Why do you hate us? Why do you hate winning?" cried the Orioles fans. But Showalter again proved that there's a reason he is the manager and we are not. Gregg pitched two innings with the only blemish being one walk.
Finally, in the 15th inning, the Orioles broke through. Adcock was still on the mound for the Royals and he finally stumbled. Markakis hit a long fly ball to right field that looked like it might be home run, but which landed safely in Frenchy's glove on the warning track. But then Jones, 0-for-6 on the night, decided to make it 1-for-7. He hit a no-doubt-about-it bomb to left field that Alex Gordon just turned to watch sail out of the park. Finally! O's up 4-3! After Bill Hall, who didn't start this game, drew a walk, Betemit grounded out to end the inning and it was all up to Jim Johnson to preserve the win.
Batter #1: Comebacker to JJ, one out.
Batter #2: Broken bat grounder to second, tough play for Flaherty, he gets him! Two outs.
Batter #3: Single to right field. Frowny face.
Batter #4: On a 2-2 count, Alex Gordon hits a foul ball that ricochets back up and hits him in the nuts. Ouch! Next pitch, foul ball. Next pitch, ball three. Come on, JJ! Next pitch, ground ball to second. Andino has it, he throws to first, O's win! O's win!
Wow. What a game. And we get to do it all again (well, hopefully not ALL of it) in just fourteen hours.