Ho-hum...just another Orioles win over a Red Sox team they've completely dominated this year.
Wait, "ho-hum"? What am I saying? The O's are 11 games over .500! This is unbelievable, people!
O's starter Miguel Gonzalez didn't have his best stuff tonight, but he battled. Grinded. Gutted. Gritted. Pick your preferred way of saying, "He probably should've given up more runs than he did." Gonzalez had to throw 25 pitches just to get through the first inning. Still, he stranded two runners on base by blowing away Cody Ross on a fastball after Adrian Gonzalez fell a couple feet short of a three-run homerun. Gonzalez (Miguel, that is) rebounded to retire 9 of 10 batters in the next three innings, though he wasn't out of the woods yet.
On the mound for Boston was Aaron Cook. The last time Cook faced the Orioles, he left the field with his leg basically severed in half. That's only a slight exaggeration. But he seemed to have all his limbs intact tonight, and his sinker was working to perfection. Through the first three innings, Cook did his best Felix Hernandez impression, retiring all nine batters, seven on grounders.
The scoreless tie continued into the bottom of the fourth, when the Birds were denied a run that was rightfully theirs. Nick Markakis led off with a walk and moved to third with two outs on a couple of grounders. Adam Jones followed with a high-chopping bouncer to short. Mike Aviles got the ball to first quickly, but Jones clearly beat the throw by a step. Clearly, that is, to everyone except umpire Laz Diaz, who inexplicably called Jones out. Agh! Just an awful call. A possible O's lead was thwarted, and Oriole fans everywhere voiced their demands for robot umpires.
Adding to the frustration, the Red Sox immediately took the lead in the top of the fifth. Gonzalez surrendered singles to the 8 and 9 hitters, and Oriole-killer Jacoby Ellsbury plated one of them with a ground-rule double to center field. Ellsbury now has a whopping 38-game hitting streak against the Birds. Carl Crawford followed with a sac fly-- with Jones firing the ball to the backstop on his throw home-- to extend Boston's lead to 2-0.
Cook allowed another leadoff walk in the fifth but again stranded the runner, picking up two more ground-ball outs. At that point the Orioles had grounded out TWELVE TIMES in just five innings, and they still didn't have a hit. Guys, is Aaron Cook really going to throw a no-hitter? The Aaron Cook with a 4.70 ERA and one strikeout per nine innings? This isn't actually happening, is it?
Relax-- it didn't happen. In one fell swoop, Cook lost his no-hitter, then completely lost his grip on the game. The fun began in the sixth when Markakis drew a walk. J.J. Hardy followed with a line-drive single to left to finally break the Birds into the hits column. Unlikely number three hitter Nate McLouth then smoked an RBI single to right-center, plating Markakis with the first run.
Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine made the first of about 10 billion trips to the mound in the inning, convening with Cook about how to approach Adam Jones. His advice was likely something along the lines of "get him to hit a ground ball." Tragically, Valentine left out the essential second part of that tip: "once you field the ground ball, don't just chuck it willy-nilly into center field." But alas, that's exactly what happened. Jones hit a comebacker to Cook, who wheeled to second...and flung the ball into left-center. BAHAHAHA! Oh, Red Sox. You slay me. What could've been an inning-ending double play instead inflamed the rally, as Hardy scored and McLouth ended up on third base. It's a brand new ballgame...but not for long.
Valentine let Cook face one more batter, which proved to be a costly mistake when Matt Wieters sliced a ground-rule double to left field to plate the go-ahead run. Five consecutive Orioles batters had reached base, and Cook was finished. I was going to say "his goose was Cooked," but apparently I made that exact same joke last time he pitched. I need some new material.
The revolving door of Red Sox relievers began with lefty Andrew Miller, who got Chris Davis to ground into a fielder's choice at the plate (with Jones absolutely decking catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who held on to the ball). Miller was replaced by righty Junichi Tazawa, who was less effective. Mark Reynolds ripped a double into the left-field corner, and Crawford didn't exactly make a great attempt to catch the ball as it flew over his head. Wieters and Davis both scored, extending the Birds' lead to 5-2. The Camden Yards crowd of 22,269-- which was mostly pro-Orioles, thankfully-- was rocking in triumph. It wasn't until the Sox used their fourth pitcher of the inning, Craig Breslow, that they finally ended the 10-batter sixth inning. Poor Omar Quintanilla grounded out to begin the inning AND to end it.
Gonzalez now stood to be the winning pitcher. He was finished after six innings, throwing 94 pitches. He allowed two runs and six hits and gave up several well-hit balls, but was able to work his way out of trouble most of the time. Hey, we'll take a quality start any day of the week, especially with this stellar Orioles bullpen.
Newcomer J.C. Romero made his second appearance and allowed an unearned run...though it was his own error that caused the problem, so let's call it a half-earned run. He threw wildly to first on a Nick Punto comebacker, and a Crawford groundout plated him. Romero departed with a runner at second and two down, replaced by Luis Ayala.
A huge defensive play short-circuited a Red Sox rally. Dustin Pedroia hit a grounder deep past third. Manny Machado showed nice range to snag it, then fired across the diamond. His throw bounced, but Reynolds made a nifty scoop to secure the out. Well done on both sides! I guarantee you that if Wilson Betemit had been playing either third base OR first base on that play, Pedroia would've ended up on second base.
Pedro Strop did his thing, working a perfect eighth inning with two strikeouts. During that frame, Adrian Gonzalez and Bobby Valentine-- who are apparently archenemies, according to the Boston press-- BOTH got ejected from the game by home plate ump Mike Everitt. Valentine, oddly, took his ejection with extreme nonchalance, just sort of casually sauntering off the field instead of getting in the ump's face. Those seem like the carefree actions of a guy who thinks his days are numbered. And they may well be. No word on whether Valentine later came back to the dugout wearing sunglasses and a fake mustache.
Jim Johnson nailed down the save, recovering from a 3-0 count on the first batter to work a perfect ninth inning. Put it in the books! And with Tampa Bay's loss tonight (thanks, King Felix!), the Orioles now have a one-game lead for the top wild-card spot as of this writing. Woohoo!