The script was a familiar one for Orioles fans who've been used to sad-sack baseball teams. Score a fair few runs in the initial innings of the game - in this case, 6 runs over 5 innings - and then fail to add on any runs even as the O's starter abruptly runs out of steam. The ending to that script involved a bullpen allowing the other team to continue to chip away, culminating ultimately in a walk-off home run. In 2012, the endings to all of the scripts have been rewritten. Birdland cometh. Deal with it.
That's not to say that the game was not without tension. If you are an Orioles fan like me, you've been conditioned to the losing. You expect the worst, still. The season's early success has not been enough to blast away the lingering doubts and the familiar malaise. Jim Johnson entering the game to strive for his 23rd consecutive save was one of these moments. The entire 2012 Orioles bullpen is such a moment. Watching them night in and night out and that parasitic pessimist inside you says, "These guys are way overdue to blow one." Every pitch is a tense moment. Will the closer mysteriously hit the batter with a pitch and then give up a game-tying home run? Will he walk two guys and then give up a game-winning home run? These are the things I ask myself.
For those who were watching on TV, you probably also noted FOX's Bob Carpenter (typically the Nationals play-by-play man for MASN, as well) doing his level best to drop a jinx on Johnson by pointing out that consecutive save streak. Rationally, there is no such thing as a jinx. I know this and you also know this, but we are fans and fandom is irrational, so we also know that the fickle finger of fate is ever present in the world. We do not tempt it. Carpenter did - intentionally, we have to suspect, being that he is a Nats guy. So when Ryan Zimmerman's batted ball sailed out into the bullpen in left field, we said, "Of course."
We waited, then, for the next shoe to drop. .300+ hitter Adam LaRoche stepped up to the plate. 0-8 in this series, he was "due" if ever a player was. Due is due. That's how it was supposed to go. It was written right there in the script. Johnson - and the entire 2012 Orioles - are playing off a different script, so he just went ahead and coolly struck out LaRoche, neat as you please. The Orioles are in the win column for the 27th time this year. That is a 27-14 record. Two short years in the past, the Orioles were 27-59.
I like this new script a lot better, don't you?
Maybe it's not just the ending that was changed. Maybe the Orioles of past years would have found a way to only score 4 or 5 runs, but they got the six runs, and in the end, that was exactly what they needed.
The game began with the kind of frustrating missed opportunities that were so familiar to Orioles fans. J.J. Hardy tripled - thanks to a misplay by Nationals left fielder Roger Bernadina - in the first inning and was on third base with only one out. Next up was Nick Markakis, who decided to do the Markakis thing and ground weakly right to an infielder. Zimmerman did make a nice play on the grounder; Hardy broke home and was thrown out. Yes, we have seen that movie before.
Many of the Orioles have also seen that movie before. They don't like that movie and they are doing something about it. The second inning saw the offense get right back into the game. Wilson Betemit led off with a single and was sacrificed to second, followed by a Xavier Avery walk. I get excited by every Avery walk because one of his problems was supposed to be lack of plate discipline. He has four walks in his 33 plate appearances. That'll do. Ah, but this is the National League. Next up: Jason Hammel. He too sacrificed, putting runners on second and third with two out. Only a base hit could score the runs. Robert Andino delivered with a single to left, scoring the runners.
The Orioles are not really that kind of nickel-and-diming team. They'd rather just go ahead and hit some bombs. The third inning saw Hardy reach on an infield single. Markakis then did that Markakis thing and hit a GIDP ball, but he beat out the relay throw. Adam Jones promptly uncorked his 14th home run of the year, adding another exclamation point (or perhaps another dollar sign) to recent speculation about whether he should be extended and how much he might cost. 4-0 Orioles.
Even Markakis got in on the home run parade for the second game in a row. He added a two-run home run of his own in the 5th, giving the O's their 6 runs that they would need for the victory. Say this about Markakis: he looks bad at times, but when he delivers, he delivers. He finished the game with a batting line of .258/.335/.472 on the season. We'd still like another 30 points across the board, but his slugging percentage is up to a level we haven't seen since the 2008 season.
For the second straight start, Hammel lost himself in the 6th inning. Is he not all the way healed? Is something else causing him to tire early? In tonight's start he left with one out in the 6th and two men on base. Both the inherited runners scored after Luis Ayala entered the game, giving Hammel a final line of 5.1 IP with 6 hits, 4 runs (all earned), 2 walks and 5 strikeouts. His once-superhuman ERA is up to a mortal-looking 3.12. If he settles in that range it'll still be better than Jeremy Guthrie ever managed for the O's.
The old script called for the Orioles to lose, as the old script has done for many games over the first 41 games this season. Lucky for us, they have been playing from a different script, and that has made all the difference.
The O's will enter tomorrow's game looking to sweep their southern neighbors. Young sensation Stephen Strasburg will start the 1:35pm game for the Nats and Taiwanese sensation Wei-Yin Chen goes for the Orioles. The old script was one full of Sunday forfeits. The new one is full of exciting possibilities. Life remains good in Birdland tonight.