Well, that was unexpected. With the Orioles in desperate need of a win and a deep start from a starting pitcher to rest the bullpen, they got both thanks to...Tommy Hunter?
The Orioles offense continued in its woeful ways, scoring just two runs, both on a first-inning home run from Adam Jones. After that, Twins starter Francisco Liriano shut the O's down completely. Thankfully the O's had their secret weapon, Hunter, whose stuff didn't look as impressive, but whose results were even better than Liriano's.
Liriano has had an up-and-down season, with his last start being an up as he struck out 15 Athletics. Tonight he picked up where he left off. Well, after the first inning. With one out, J.J. Hardy (shockingly) got a hit, a single back up the middle. He was on board for the home run from Jones, which was a monster. It landed in the back row of the second deck in left field. See for yourself.
After that, Liriano did what he tends to do: walk guys and strike guys out. He struck out Matt Wieters and Mark Reynolds to end the first inning, and in the second through the sixth innings he allowed just two hits, both singles. He did walk three, so the Orioles had a few baserunners, but he also struck out ten, so they couldn't do anything with them.
Raise your hand if you thought two first-inning runs would end up being enough for Tommy Hunter to pitch with a lead for eight innings? Put your hands down, liars!
Hunter was hardly perfect, giving up six hits in his 7 1/3 innings pitched, but he spaced them out throughout the game as the Twins only had multiple baserunners in the third and seventh innings. He had just one 1-2-3 inning, but he didn't walk anyone and didn't give the Twins any extra chances. The only run he surrendered was thanks to a solo shot by Josh Willingham in the fourth inning. Incidentally, I cannot hear Willingham's name without also hearing Rob Dibble, from his time with the Nationals announcing team, saying "THE HAMMER!" I don't miss him!
Clinging to a one-run lead in the seventh inning, Hunter got into his only real jam of the day. The Hammer singled to lead off the inning, then with one out, Hunter hit Trevor Plouffe with a pitch. Brian Dozier flew out for the second out, and pinch hitter Ryan Doumit battled for seven pitches before popping up to end the inning. Phew!
With a slim lead, an unexpected good start from Hunter, and his pitch count at 103, I figured that'd be it for him on the night. I gave him a standing O from my living room (I didn't do that), only to be shocked to see him return for the 8th inning! Before I could get too outraged, Hunter had struck out Jamey Carroll and was being removed from the game for lefty Troy Patton.
Patton came into the game and immediately was bad. He walked Denard Span and gave up a single to Ben Revere to put two runners on with just one out. A groundout from Joe Mauer moved the runners up to second and third, and with lefty Justin Morneau on deck, the O's elected to intentionally walk The Hammer to get to him. Things like that always make me nervous, as it's the Orioles after all. But it worked out with Morneau grounding into the shift for the final out.
A 2-1 lead with Jim Johnson to shut it down? Normally I'd say no problemo, but JJ's last few outings haven't exactly been smooth. It looked like he might still have troubles tonight when Plouffe singled with no outs, but a fantastic play by Mark Reynolds on a popped up bunt from Dozier led to the first out and the runner remaining at third. Reynolds dove straight towards home, laying out to make the catch, and even almost doubled up the runner at first. Two groundouts later and the Orioles were back in the win column.
Tommy Hunter did a great job tonight, and while it certainly doesn't give me hope that he'll be a better pitcher from here on out, just for this evening he made the Orioles a little bit more watchable. And for that, I thank him.