There is a man on the Orioles who is hated by a large swath of the fanbase. Maligned, misunderstood, he was miscast when he came to the team as a person who could play third base at the major league level. This was not his destiny. Yet it seems that, flipped across the diamond, he has found his place, or at least his place on this year's Orioles. He lays out for overthrown balls, he manages to keep a toe on the bag, and perhaps having found this comfort in the field, he is bringing a better bat to the plate as well.
That player's name is Mark Reynolds. Today was his day.
We join the action in the top of the fifth inning, with Reynolds leading off against Phil Hughes. The Orioles were down 2-0 at this point in the game, Chris Tillman having allowed a Chris Dickerson home run with Russell Martin on base after a walk. Hughes is a fly ball pitcher who had allowed home runs in 21 of his 26 games started this year - the last one where he did not allow one was August 1 against the Orioles. The Yankees starter opened up the at-bat with a brush-back pitch at Reynolds' head. As Luke Scott would say, not at his freaking head, bro!
Reynolds got revenge the best way a batter can: crushing a freaking second-deck homer. 2-1 Yankees.
Panic returned in the bottom of the inning. Randy Wolf was on the mound. Really? Yes - Tillman had to leave after only 3 innings pitched. His problem was described as "elbow soreness". Uh oh. That could be bad. We can't let it drag us down today. Wolf, in his first appearance as an Oriole, was tasked with bridging the game into the late innings. He started the bottom of the 5th with a walk to Dickerson, who advanced on a Jayson Nix sacrifice bunt and a Derek Jeter sacrifice fly. That left him on third base where he could score easily on a Nick Swisher single. 3-1 Yankees.
Take out that Reynolds homer and Hughes was doing well through five innings. He came out for the 6th and suddenly he was not fine. Nate McLouth walked to lead off, and though we all expected a GIDP because this is the Orioles, Adam Jones hit a single and McLouth scored on another single by Matt Wieters. 3-2 Yankees.
Then came Reynolds again. Hughes was clearly on the ropes. He was reeling. But he had not yet thrown 100 pitches! The Binder does not allow for pitchers to be removed at less than 100 pitches. Thus he pitched to Reynolds, and the 99th pitch he threw on the day was launched once more to left, the second two-homer game in the series for Reynolds. That brought the score up to 5-3 Orioles, a lead they would not relinquish on the way to taking two out of the three in the Bronx. The Orioles have won all of their series' in Yankee Stadium this year.
After the inning, Girardi had a stunned, Ron Burgundy-like expression on his face. "Boy... that escalated quickly," one imagines he thought.
Wolf deserves some credit for keeping this game from getting out of hand. I thought he would suck in an Orioles uniform. You probably did too. He was awful in Milwaukee this year. Why would you think he would suddenly be better? But now he's dropped smack dab into the middle of a pennant race. Does that have an effect on a pitcher? Maybe it does, or maybe he just had a lucky day. He threw 3.1 innings and only allowed the one run. He held the line, and the batters - led by Reynolds - turned things around while he kept things stable after Tillman's departure.
They could have rolled over and died today after a heartbreaker loss last night. The wind could have been let out of their sails and we would have said, "Yep, that's about right. It's been a nice run." They could have done, but they did not, and now they're back to just two games behind the Yankees.
Girardi's lack of a quick hook for Hughes was made all the more curious by his later burning through the bullpen as if relievers were going out of style. Hughes pitched five innings plus four batters in the 6th, and Girardi used eight relievers on the day. How ridiculous is that? Everywhere, there had to be lefty-lefty and righty-righty matchups. He was playing that classic reliever roulette, except all the chambers were bullets. Through this whirling merry-go-round, especially in the five-reliever 8th inning, the O's carried on and scored three more runs in that 8th.
Reynolds was the star of the day, but others contributed as well. Manny Machado had a 2-4 day, including a single to keep the 8th inning rally going. Robert Andino had a tough day at the plate but worked a bases loaded walk after Machado's single. Nick Markakis, who had a 3-5 day, drove in two runs immediately after that. Well, not immediately. Girardi had brought on Boone Logan to face Markakis, because as Dave Trembley might have said, you just gotta get a lefty in there. Nick doesn't care. He noodled one into right field.
Meanwhile, the Orioles pen shut down the Yankees for the rest of the game. Even Luis Ayala, who entered with an inherited runner, did not allow the man on base to score, bringing him up to an even 50% (18/36) with inherited runners scoring this year. Brian Matusz, the lefty specialist the Orioles didn't know they had two weeks ago, added two outs in four pitches, including a 3-pitch strikeout of Eric Chavez, who never had a chance. Darren O'Day pitched the 9th and though he gave up a leadoff walk to Martin (did O's pitchers not get the memo he's batting .195?) he got a double play ball from Ichiro Suzuki that the infield turned cleanly. An Andruw Jones flyout ended the game with the Orioles in the win column.
Next up for the Orioles is a three-game series in Toronto. Full speed ahead. There is no stopping now. They need to mop up against the soft parts of the AL East. After this brief diversion to Canada, another four-game series from the Yankees loom - and the Yanks are off to face the hot Rays. If the O's keep winning, it's the Yanks who have the pressure on them. The Orioles are playing with house money here.
Tomorrow's game is in the afternoon due to the Labor Day holiday. The 1:07pm start time will see J.A. Happ pitching for Toronto and Joe Saunders looking to have a much better outing the second time around for the O's.
By the way, the Orioles have now won their 74th game - equaling their win total from the 2005 season.