It's not news to any of you reading this, but tonight was Brian Roberts' 2012 debut after missing over a year due to his concussion troubles. I wasn't going to miss Brian's first game back, so despite the steady rain that had been falling all day, I packed up the boyfriend and an umbrella and headed down to Camden Yards for what turned out to be a fantastic night.
While I certainly wouldn't expect a large crowd on a Tuesday night against the Pittsburgh Pirates, the rain drove away many who would have attended, leaving a small crowd that was an unusually high percentage of Pirates fans. I suppose they had already driven in from out of town and, unlike the local Orioles fans, didn't have the option of staying home and watching the game from their couch.
As it turned out, not one raindrop fell once the game started and it ended up being a lovely night. A bit humid at first, but cool by the end of the game. And I'm very glad I didn't miss it because Brian Roberts (and the rest of the offense) didn't let me down.
I'll be honest, I had gotten used to life without Brian Roberts. For most recent games I didn't even think about him. But tonight, as he stood at second base during the National Anthem, it suddenly felt like more of a Baltimore Orioles baseball game than I had experienced in quite some time.
On the mound tonight for the Orioles was Wei-Yin Chen, and while he gave up four runs in 6 1/3 against a woeful Pirates offense and threw what seemed like a million pitches, he emerged victorious. In the first inning he got two quick outs when Andrew McCutchen, the only really good hitter on the Pirates team at the moment, hit a ground ball to third base. Wilson Betemit fielded the ball and while it would have been a close play, he still had a shot. Maybe he couldn't get a grip on the ball, but he didn't even throw it. Score it an infield single for McCutchen.
As "cleanup hitter" Casey McGehee stood at the plate, McCutchen immediately made the Orioles pay for not getting him out as he stole second base. I said to my boyfriend, "O'sFan21 struck this guy out! I can't believe he's their cleanup hitter," and then proceeded to watch Chen walk McGehee on four pitches. The bf mock shouted, "Bring in O'sFan21!" in response to the walk. The next batter, Matt Hague, singled up the middle, knocking in McCutchen. After getting two outs so quickly to start the inning, things were unraveling for Chen. Thankfully he stranded the two runners on base with a strikeout to Pedro Alvarez.
That brought us all to the moment we had been waiting for. As Pirates starter Brad Lincoln warmed up, the PA announcer said the words we've been waiting for over a year to hear: "Ladies and gentlemen, batting first for the Baltimore Orioles, #1, Brian Roberts!"
The crowd was small, perhaps the smallest I've seen all year. But we still managed to give Brian a very warm welcome back ovation, and as I watched him take his first pitches I just felt happy. Roberts took three straight pitches to go to a 2-1 count before fouling off a pitch, taking another ball to make it 3-2, and on the sixth pitch of the bat he lined a base hit up the middle. He wouldn't get past first as J.J. Hardy lined out and Chris Davis hit into a double play, but just seeing him there at first, taking his lead, dancing around to get in the pitcher's head, it was fantastic.
After his first-inning struggles, Chen settled in and looked as you'd expect him to against an offense like the Pirates. He gave up a single in the second inning, a walk in the third (again to McGehee!), pitched a perfect fourth, and stranded Neil Walker at second after he hit a two-out double. Chen went into the sixth inning with a 4-1 lead, thanks mostly to the Orioles doing what they do best: hitting home runs.
Adam Jones led off the second inning with a double, the start of a very good night at the plate. Two outs later he came around to score on Mark Reynolds 4th home run of the year, giving the Orioles a 2-1 lead. I think it's about time Reynolds goes on a home run binge, don't you? He needs to catch up with the rest of the guys.
The Orioles added a single run in the third inning thanks to back-to-back-to-back singles with two outs by Hardy, Davis, and Jones. They had a chance to get more with two runners on and Matt Wieters at the plate, but Lincoln pitched around him and walked him to load the bases for Betemit, who struck out.
After a scoreless fourth inning that saw singles from Steve Pearce and Roberts wasted, the Orioles added one more in the fifth inning on a home run for Adam Jones, his 18th of the year and his third hit of the night.
The top of the sixth inning started with Chen's arch-nemesis, Casey McGehee at the plate. As I implored him not to walk a guy with stats like McGehee's, Chen did something worse: he gave up a home run. The ball sailed onto the flag court as I wondered what kind of spell McGehee has on Chen. Chen got out of the inning with no more damage, but I'm still salty at how he handled McGehee tonight.
In the bottom of the inning the Orioles doubled their run total on the night, putting up a four spot against Pirates reliever Chris Resop (Resop backwards spells Poser). Pearce reached on an error by shortstop Clint Barmes, then Endy Chavez bunted for a single that Resop threw past the first baseman. Pearce went to third on the error; Chavez to second. But on the play Endy strained his hamstring and had to come out of the game. As of now we haven't heard if he'll be going to the disabled list.
With two runners on and no outs, tonight's star stepped to the plate. Roberts fouled off a few pitches before sending a long fly ball to right field. It easily scored Pearce from first and gave the Orioles a 5-2 lead. Hardy followed that with a single past the drawn in infield to score Ryan Flaherty, who had come in to run for Chavez. Nice, J.J.! I yelled to Chris Davis as he got to the plate, "Hit a home run off of this poser!" and you know what? Chris obliged! He sent a ball to center field that landed in the Eutaw Street seats and put the Orioles lead at 8-2.
Shockingly, Chen came back to start the seventh inning. It did not go well. Two straight hits with no outs put runners on second and third, and after an RBI ground out by Walker, Chen was done for the night. He was replaced by Luis Ayala, who immediately let his inherited runner score on a sacrifice fly that Flaherty made a nice catch on in right field. That made Chen's final line: 6 1/3 IP, 8 H, 4 R, 2 BB (both to McGehee), 4 K.
Nothing really happened for either team in the eighth inning, but here's something fun that occurred: Brian Roberts led off with a single, his third hit of the game. The next batter, Hardy, hit into a fielder's choice with Roberts being forced out at second. As Brian jogged back to the dugout, the fans behind the Orioles dugout and all along the lower box gave him a standing ovation. It was the first time I've seen a standing O for being forced out, and it was adorable.
Kevin Gregg came on to pitch the 9th inning and, because he's Kevin Gregg, tried to spoil all of our fun. After Barmes popped up to second for the first out, Gregg walked Alex Presley, then gave up a two-run homer to Walker. Seriously, Gregg? Seriously? That made the score 8-6 and Buck yanked Gregg from the game, who walked to the dugout to a chorus of boos from the stands. Jim Johnson came in to shut it down, and shut it down he did. He struck out the dangerous McCutchen and then got McGehee on a ground out, the first pitcher to retire him in the game.
O's win! I do apologize for the length of this recap, but tonight, to me and to many others, was about more than just the game being played on the field.