The four hour and fifty-five minute marathon began as all too many games this season seemed to have done: a young Orioles pitcher who was once a hot prospect getting lit up early thanks in part to defensive miscues. But the game continued as too many have strangely done in this year. The offense, despite sometimes being starved for baserunners and starved for hits with runners in scoring position, found a way to get those key homers at just the right times.
They battled back from the deficits. The bullpen held the line for nine scoreless innings, and finally, after the clock struck twelve, when by all rights they should have been turned back into pumpkins, they loaded the bases in the 14th inning and the hero of the year, Adam Jones, came to the plate looking to send us all home. Jones did not disappoint - he delivered a hit reminiscent of Robert Andino's diving ball that walked off the O's against Boston to end last season. Jones' hit was to right, but the result was the same. The run scored. The game was over. Birdland notched another improbable triumph to go along with a year of improbable triumphs.
The win was the Orioles' twelfth of the year in extra innings, and the twelfth straight extra innings win as well, and racked up their record in one-run games to a whopping 23-6. There is still much to be argued about things like run differential and the Pythagorean expectation, the sheer seeming-unsustainability of the record in these close games. But the Orioles, over the first 110 games of the season - and that's a lot of games - have had one answer ready for any and all such criticism. And that answer is simple: "Suck it, Pythagoras!" Maybe you can't always explain it. Maybe you think they are due to collapse. So far they haven't, and it's been a fun summer in Baltimore that might just keep being fun.
Not to be lost in the exuberance of another improbable comeback was the disastrous outing of Zach Britton today. He escaped the full barrage that his ERA deserved to eat because he had three runs unearned - but the unearned runs scored as a result of an error from a grounder that Britton, himself, misplayed. Five runs scored for the Mariners in the first two innings and they had seven plated against Britton in total. He gave up eight hits, including two home runs to the illustrious Kyle Seager (a two-out shot that further solidified Seager as the MLB leader in 2-out RBI, with 40) and, even more frustrating, Miguel Olivo, who came into the day with a .224 on-base percentage.
Britton may find himself squeezed out right now if the team decides tonight that they need an extra reliever tomorrow. Everyone except Jim Johnson threw tonight and even Tommy Hunter, tomorrow's starter, had done some warmup tosses and may well have entered the game if it went into the 15th inning.
Let's not spare Wilson Betemit from any ire here, because tonight was another game where he proved repeatedly that he does not belong playing third base on a major league team. Betemit had about the worst misplay you can possibly have in the first inning - a ball that was within even his limited range that was in his glove and dropped out. It was scored a base hit but could easily have been an error, and probably should have been. He added another error for good measure in the 6th that led to another Seattle run and throughout the night further demonstrated Andrew's thesis that Betemit's range is as far as he can fall over - tonight it was even less than that.
Mercifully, manager Buck Showalter lifted Betemit for pinch-hitter Robert Andino in the bottom of the 10th inning. Seattle had on a lefty reliever, Josh Kinney, and Betemit is terrible against lefties this year. Andino didn't do anything then, but he was then at third base to make a play on a sharp grounder by Seager in the top of the 13th that the grizzled press box veterans, all of whom had written and re-written the game story several times by that point and probably just wanted to go home, started saying, "Betemit wouldn't have had that one." And he wouldn't have. IT would have been a single to left and Eric Thames (who singled and stole second) would have scored.
Matt Wieters had two home runs tonight. I got to the end and I hadn't mentioned this. They were both solo shots. He had three hits on the night. Markakis had four. Those guys had a good night. Wieters even threw out a runner - why do they run on him?
Kevin Gregg was relieved by Troy Patton, who was followed by Luis Ayala, himself relieved by Pedro Strop, who was followed by Matt Lindstrom, who was relieved by Darren O'Day. From the time Gregg allowed an inherited runner from Britton to score, no more runs were scored by Seattle. That totaled the nine innings - and none of these guys walked a batter, scattering nine hits.
Kelley was the sacrificial lamb in his third inning of relief for Seattle. Omar Quintanilla led off with a controversial single - well, simply put, the umpire ruled first baseman Mike Carp was off the bag when he caught the throw and he wasn't. Seattle's manager Eric Wedge was ejected, deservedly so. His team was screwed by this call. But, as you may remember, I stand by the position that the Orioles are owed every bit of umpire largesse they can possibly get until they have won four World Series titles and the New York Yankees have had 14 straight losing seasons. That is what they are owed for the Jeffrey Maier play. So I will sleep well tonight.
Moving on, Nick Markakis followed with a clean single to center, J.J. Hardy - who had tied the game with an Earl Weaver Special in the 7th - sacrificed the runners to second and third, and then the Mariners intentionally walked Chris Davis to bring up Jones. He was swinging for the fences as you might expect, but he hit the ball where the Mariners weren't. Quintanilla came in easily to score and Orioles Magic blared over the stadium speakers for the remnants of a crowd of 15,433.
They could all celebrate a bit and go home - as I, now, having finished this recap from the press box of Camden Yards, can go home, too. The next game will begin later today, at 7:05pm, and is currently scheduled to have the Mentor himself, Kevin Millwood, starting for Seattle, while Tommy Hunter will be pitching for the Orioles. The O's will look for the sweep and a fifth-straight win as they keep surging back in the AL East - now only 4.5 games behind those dastardly Yankees. It might seem unlikely, but it's kept working so far - so, as was once said in Baltimore: why not?
CODA: I'm not done yet, because before I could wrap up, Britton has indeed been optioned and Steve Johnson will be starting tomorrow's game. Additionally, Ryan Flaherty has tonsilitis, was sent home from the stadium tonight, and could be DL'd before tomorrow.